The boss of the Scottish Ambulance Service travelled to Sutherland yesterday to hear directly from anxious patients with no access to hospital transport.
SAS chief executive Pauline Howie pledged to investigate the problems further to ensure “the highest possible level of patient care”.
She met residents and community leaders at Lochinver at the invitation of Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant.
Residents complained that no action had been taken to plug gaps in a limited patient transport service for Assynt, and that services were being run “from a central point in the central belt and not engaging with the rural population.”
The community registered its concern about the absence of bus links allowing patients to travel to Raigmore in Inverness and back in the same day, “due to council subsidy cutbacks.”
Ms Howie and Mrs Grant each described the Lochinver meeting as “constructive.”
Mrs Grant said: “The service needs to take these issues on board. There’s a fundamental problem about lack of transport in rural areas. We have an NHS that should mean ‘free at the point of need’. It isn’t if you’re having to pay £100 for a taxi.”
Mrs Howie said: “I was grateful for the opportunity. We had a constructive meeting and agreed to work with the community to develop local solutions to improve patient transport services. I look forward to further engagement to ensure we are delivering the highest possible level of patient care.”
Council leader Margaret Davidson said it was with huge regret that some patient transport subsidies had been reduced.