NHS Shetland is exploring other options to sending passengers on the ferry to Aberdeen for hospital appointments, chairman Ian Kinniburgh said today.
Members of the board discussed an item on patient travel in private this morning, despite members Malcolm Bell and Andy Glen calling for the talks to be held in public.
Following the meeting, Mr Kinniburgh said the decision the board took last month to make the ferry the default option “at the moment it is the thing the board have committed to do.”
But he added: “We have also said we want to fully understand what the alternatives are. One of the alternatives now on the table is an offer from Loganair, and we need to compare that against a more robust set of figures.”
Mr Kinniburgh stressed that the health board was “genuinely in a commercially sensitive discussion with Loganair” and the discussion was about getting the best deal for people in Shetland.
NHS Shetland had initially hoped it could save £1 million a year off its £2.8 million travel budget.
Mr Kinniburgh did not want to comment in detail on the figures involved in the plan.
“Is there now a possibility there might be an alternative solution? Yes but it depends entirely on how we proceed with negotiations with Loganair,” he said.
“It’s true to say the amount of savings we are likely to achieve by doing this [patient travel proposal] will be less than we originally thought because we’re taking more factors into account following public responses, public outcry to the proposal and it’s fair to say that Loganair have put something on the table that previously wasn’t there.
“As a board we have an obligation to consider that, and we will consider that in public, but we need to fine tune that; we need to understand the extent of Loganair’s offer and we need to understand as well as we can do what the likely final savings figure would be by moving people to the boat.”
A firm decision on patient travel would be made in a public meeting, Mr Kinniburgh said.
However, given the council elections and the announcement of a general election today and a purdah period the next meeting on patient travel would not be until June at the earliest, he added.
Loganair would also have to state they were willing to share the information about the offer too, Mr Kinniburgh said.
“That is part of the discussions we’re having with them at the moment. The fact they hadn’t given us that permission today, it just wasn’t appropriate for us to have that discussion in public.”
He felt it was right to have the meeting in private and said there was cross referencing in the meeting to the offer from Loganair.
Mr Kinniburgh said when the board considered using the ferry at first “it was the only option for us when it came to making savings”.
He said: “We are now of a view that there could be an alternative that we could potentially live with but it will put additional pressure on us to finding other ways of saving money.”
A refinement of clinical criteria, social criteria and not wanting to destabilise the ferry or airline service had all meant a revision of the saving figure.
However, despite that he thought the savings of moving people to the boat would still be “considerable” and a very large six-figure sum.
Mr Kinniburgh said he still felt the board had made the right decision when it voted in favour of the boat based on the information members had.
He added: “Whatever decision we take will be taken in public. It is only right and proper that we do that, and it’s only right and proper that we make the basis of our decision fully known to the public.”