A call has been made for Scottish government ministers to reconsider the level of funding they provide to NHS Shetland in light of the ongoing row about patient travel.
It follows a meeting between Shetland’s MSP, Tavish Scott, and the Holyrood administration’s health secretary, Shona Robison.
NHS Shetland has recently come under fire for its money-saving move to make patients travelling to Aberdeen for appointments to take the boat instead of the plane.
Local health chiefs had initially claimed the move would help save up to £1m, but the decision has proved fiercely unpopular among patients, who feared the prospect of undertaking a lengthy sailing, potentially in poor weather, while already under the weather.
Some even claimed that they would simply not travel for treatment if it meant going by boat.
Last week the health board appeared to backtrack on the move, with chairman Ian Kinniburgh admitting alternative options were being explored, although they were dependant on discussions with Loganair. The board also came under fire for holding discussions in private.
The original proposal came after NHS Shetland admitted it needed to find around £4m of savings following the Scottish government’s draft budget.
Mr Scott has criticised NHS Shetland for the deeply unpopular decision. But he has also laid blame at the Scottish government’s door for failing to adequately fund the health service in the isles.
During his meeting with the health secretary, Mr Scott highlighted the concerns shared by constituents about the impact of the travel policy, particularly for those who would not benefit from planned exemptions.
He also raised the need to minimise the number of visits patients make to Aberdeen particularly for brief consultation meetings. These should be done by phone, skype or video conference.
“It is no secret that NHS Shetland faces challenges as a result of underfunding from the Scottish government. I know that many Shetlanders are sympathetic to those challenges.
“However, an approach to saving money by forcing people on a 14 hour ferry instead of a quick flight to Aberdeen was not acceptable. Even worse it is now glaringly apparent that the health board simply had not thought their proposal through. It is important that sensible negotiations are now taking place with Loganair over flight costs. That should have happened first.
“But the overall NHS Shetland budget is too small. There is simply not enough cash in the pot. Shetland’s health needs will only increase over the next few years. I want the Scottish government to recognise that health funding must increase to meet the islands’ needs.”