More cash should be given to NHS Shetland to fly patients to the mainland for hospital appointments, says isles MSP Tavish Scott.
Mr Scott said the health board should get the support it needs to allow people take the plane when seen as the most suitable option.
“Flying to Aberdeen for patients who need at most an hour with a consultant is very demanding on many Shetlanders,” he said.
“I have raised with NHS Shetland the need to ensure that consultations take place by phone, on Skype, or video conference where at all possible. That would be the sensible way to move forward and I believe that NHS Shetland want to do this but they need the co-operation of the senior medical staff in Aberdeen.
“Where islanders do need to travel then a 45-minute flight is preferable to overnight on the boat.
“The Northern Isles cannot be discriminated against on the basis that we are unlucky enough to have 200 miles of sea between Lerwick and Aberdeen. Patient travel policy must be based on the principle of the most efficient and safest way to move a patient that reduces the travel time, the stress and the discomfort.
“If that means that a flight is more appropriate, and in most cases it will be, then that is what should happen. The Scottish government should adequately fund NHS Shetland to deliver such an approach.
“I am meeting NHS Shetland in the next few weeks and will be pressing for such an approach. I will also work with them if they need help to make the case for adequate funding from the Scottish government.”
Health board chairman Ralph Roberts, said: “NHS Shetland, along with all public sector organisations, needs to make efficiencies if we are to create the funds that allow us to invest in new medicines and meet the increased pressure on our services that are the result of a growing elderly population and changing technology.”
Mr Roberts said the board has a savings target this year of £2.3 million, on a recurrent, year on year basis, as well as a £1.4 million one-off saving.
“In identifying any area as a potential for savings our aim is to do this in ways that minimises the impact on patients and staff, and wherever possible link improved efficiencies alongside corresponding improvements in the service we provide.
NHS Shetland had ” a long-standing objective” to reduce the need for patients to travel for care and treatment, he said.
The board was tackling the issue he explained by relocating services from the mainland, using technology, and using different approaches to monitoring patients.
“We are looking to save at least £250,000 by reducing the need for patients to travel at all and this will therefore not only save money but also greatly improve the patients’ experience.” RALPH ROBERTS
“This has been a clear message that we have been given by our patients, who for example, may spend 12 hours away from home for a five or 10-minute outpatient appointment,” said Mr Roberts.
“We have therefore identified potential savings of £500,000 in our patient travel budget which should be seen against our total expenditure of £2.9 million on patient travel last year (approximately five per cent of our total budget).
“Within this we are looking to save at least £250,000 by reducing the need for patients to travel at all and this will therefore not only save money but also greatly improve the patients’ experience.”
Areas the board is looking at include pre-assessments for operations and some orthopaedic and haematology appointments.
“Once these areas have been addressed we will then look at other opportunities,” Mr Roberts said.
Mr Roberts said the health board was also looking at ways it could reduce the cost of journeys.
“We are looking at the possibilities of doing this in a number of ways including when and how patient escorts are used, working with the
Red Cross to provide more assistance for patients, therefore reducing the need for relatives to be an escort, making sure patients know about the possibility of travelling by ferry and ensuring we get better prices for the flights that we do pay for.
“The possibilities are currently being worked through and this has already included discussions with our patient reference groups who have been supportive of the work we have done so far.
“It is also important to emphasise that under the Highlands and Islands travel scheme, set up by the Scottish government, that patients who meet the relevant criteria receive full reimbursement of their travel costs except for a £10 contribution as set out in the guidance.”
A unattributed statement from the Scottish government said the amount of Scottish government funding for NHS Shetland and NHS Orkney was at “record high levels”, and “there has been no cut in funding whatsoever from the Scottish government to the boards.”
The statement added: “The record investment helps support measures like the Highlands and Islands Travel Scheme (HITS). This was set up to recognise the difficulties and expense involved in travelling to and from hospital by those people who live in remote communities.
“It’s right that NHS Boards look to reduce and eliminate unnecessary travel and improve the quality and experience of care provided to patients.
“Any savings made from improvements to patient care are retained locally by the individual boards for reinvestment in frontline health services.”