NHS Shetland has dropped plans to make the ferry the default option for patients – with the health board agreeing to accept a new deal from Loganair.
Board members unanimously agreed to push ahead with the offer today which will save about £300,000 a year from NHS Shetland’s £2.8 million patient travel budget.
Health chiefs are also hoping to save a further £250,000 by cutting the number of patients needing to travel to the mainland for treatment.
The decision comes after the board was met with heavy criticism for announcing plans for up to 80 per cent of patients to travel on the ferry and in a bid to save £1million a year.
But after further discussions, meeting papers today said the plan would instead to save about £600,000.
NHS Shetland chief executive Ralph Roberts said the views of the public had been taken on board, with more than 1,000 signatures being clocked up through local petitions against the change.
Accepting the Loganair deal was “the best way of delivering services quickly”, Mr Roberts said and maintained patient choice for patients.
After the meeting, Mr Roberts said patients could choose whether to take the plane or the ferry for appointments.
“What we were clear about in March was that we were pursuing the ferry option but we were going to continue progressing negotiations with Loganair, and I think if I’m being honest, I think that got lost a little bit in the comments that were being made, and that’s what we have done,” he said.
The deal is initially for 12 months, and discussions with Loganair will continue.
Mr Roberts said the health board will still have to find significant savings despite the Loganair offer.
More work also needs to be done with staff and the public to refine criteria for escorts.
“The budget of the NHS will always be constrained in some way and we will need to continue to look at that,” Mr Roberts said.
“That has got harder over the last ten years and I’m sure looking forward that it is going to be equally challenging.
“We’ve probably dealt with a lot of the easier savings if any saving can be called that. We’re getting to looking at the way we’re delivering services and what that means and I think we need to have a discussion with the community and what that means for services locally.”
More in this week’s Shetland Times.