Rural residents facing 40-mile round-trips to give blood samples have been given a reprieve to end the “intolerable burden” of travelling to appointments.
NHS Grampian has opened appointments at nine “community hubs” across the region – three of them in Moray – in a bid to free up GPs during the pandemic.
By reducing the number of people giving samples at their local surgery, it opens up slots for others to receive face-to-face treatment and consultation as required.
But in recent weeks patients who live far from their nearest hub have hit out, calling for the scheme to be expanded to better include them.
This includes those in Alford as well as Banchory, whose nearest facility is 13 miles away.
Journeys to the closest alternatives in Stonehaven, Old Aberdeen, Foresterhill and Inverurie are all between 16 and 20 miles.
The others are in Buckie, Elgin, Forres and Fraserburgh.
But NHS Grampian has confirmed work has begun on launching a community facility in Banchory, alongside others in Turriff and Peterhead.
Set-up ‘rather difficult’ for patients
Mary Lennox, who represents Banchory Community Council in the local patient participatory group, said: “It’s a concern people in the community have had to travel elsewhere.
“It’s a good idea and I can see the advantages, but there’s a feeling locally that somewhere the size of Banchory needs its own hub.
“I’ve heard of one case where someone had to go to Inverurie, but they don’t have a car – which is tricky, to say the least.
“And by public transport, you have to go into Aberdeen and back out again.
“For people who are suffering illnesses, it can add to their stress.
“I hope the comments that have been made by people in the community have helped to move things in the right direction.”
Colin Champion, who lives in the Inchmarlo Retirement Village, said many residents’ options have been limited.
“The lack of blood sample facilities in Banchory, which I have to use on a regular monitoring basis, puts me in a difficult position health-wise with my inability to travel,” he said.
“When you look at the others, in Inverurie, Stonehaven and other quite distant locations, it begs the question why people expect someone in a vulnerable position to travel to these.
“Banchory has a lot of retired people and, with a reduction of bus services in the pipeline and the only alternative travel being taxis, which can be unaffordable on a pension, it makes it rather difficult.
“However, if they are reconsidering this and are looking at extra hubs in places like Banchory, then it can only be very, very welcome indeed.
“If this is in response to people’s comments, then I’m glad they’ve listened to them and people’s concerns.”
Blood hub trips were a ‘gruelling prospect’
The issue was previously raised by Scottish Conservative MSP Alexander Burnett, who was elected to represent Aberdeenshire West in 2016 and is again standing as a candidate in the constituency.
He said: “Banchory and Alford residents contacted me with their fears over the potential loss of a vital service.
“Rural healthcare in particular has been squeezed by the pandemic as resources are sent to towns and cities.
“So any commitment to keep GP blood tests, for the likes of cancer patients, is welcome.
“Back-and-forth travel would just be too arduous for them.”
“And elderly people with mobility problems will find constant round trips of up to 40 miles a gruelling prospect.
“As circumstances change, I fully support the reintroduction of blood testing to rural GPs as before, when safe to do so.”
Yvonne Wright, NHS Grampian chief nurse, said: “We understand that some patients are concerned that it will be less convenient to attend one of our hubs and we apologise for that – but please be assured that by doing so you are playing your part in helping create extra GP surgery capacity to support and treat others in your local community.
“Some have raised concerns at having to travel to have tests undertaken.
“Please be assured the project is at an early stage and we are looking at further locations in the region to cut the distances anyone has to travel.
“We are already working towards launching further hubs in Turriff, Peterhead, and Banchory in the near future.
“The creation of the hubs has been vital to ensure, as far as possible, patient and frontline staff safety as we emerge from Covid-19, as well as protecting the ability of GP surgeries to ensure they have capacity to see patients.
“We have already had more than 4,000 people use them and the feedback from patients on their experience at the centres has been excellent.”