Island patients are having to make too many wasted trips to the mainland, MSPs on Holyrood’s health and sport committee have been told.
The committee was taking evidence from health groups on how well the authorities have been listening to patients’ feedback as health boards and councils start to work together more closely.
Corinne Curtis is the service user representative for the Orkney integration authority strategic planning group.
Ms Curtis, 61 and of Westray, said she felt the offer to listen to patients was sometimes “tokenistic” and needed improvement.
She said: “The number of wasted trips to Aberdeen is just shocking, it really is.
“All of those trips from my island will have an overnight stay somewhere because you can’t get down to Aberdeen in a day.
“I don’t know where to point people to get these issues reported, let alone acknowledged.
“I think there are huge numbers of that kind of experience we could be learning from in order to learn what’s working.”
Ms Curtis said part of the problem was a focus on cutting budgets rather than using existing money in a better way – for example, having a physiotherapist visit Westray rather than sending patients to Aberdeen. She said: “You could use the same money to make a hell of a difference if you actually listen to your service users.”
Orkney MSP Liam McArthur, Lib Dem, backed Ms Curtis’ call for patient feedback to be listened to more closely.
He said: “Key to meeting expectations of patients is listening and responding to what patients say – in a community the size of Orkney, this should be possible.
“Given the specific challenges of delivering health and care services in an island setting, it is all the more essential.
“Reducing the amount of time patients spend travelling to and from Orkney, as well as from the smaller isles to the Orkney mainland, is one way of delivering improved patient care. “Steps have been taken in this direction over recent years, but I believe more can still be achieved. Input from patients themselves must be central to shaping how this happens.”
Shona Robison, Cabinet Secretary for Health, said: “This was a constructive meeting. NHS Shetland are currently continuing to fly all patients who request to do so. Future decisions regarding travel arrangements will continue to be clinically-led and patients for whom ferry transport is not suitable will continue to be offered air travel.
“The key is reducing unnecessary patient travel – but NHS Shetland has provided an assurance that no decision on the future transfer of patients will be taken before a further update at a public board meeting on 23 June.”
An NHS Grampian spokeswoman said the northern health boards were increasing the use of video calls for patients but often a face-to-face appointment was still best. She said: “Clinicians in both Grampian and Orkney are working – and will continue to work – on alternative options as the technology allows.
“Many of our consultants already travel to the Islands to hold clinics there. If a patient feels they really don’t require a face to face appointment they should discuss this further with their GP and ask them to request a video consultation.”