Seriously ill patients from the west Highlands and islands are enduring gruelling three-times-a-week trips of hundreds of miles for life-saving kidney dialysis – sparking calls for treatment to be made available locally.
There are currently five patients making round trips of more than 170 miles on each occasion to Inverness – spending up to 10 hours a day travelling and being on dialysis.
The situation has been described as “unacceptable” by Highlands and Islands regional MSP Rhoda Grant.
The Labour politician has called on NHS Highland to respond to the needs of island patients and install a dialysis machine at Broadford Hospital on Skye.
NHS Highland said it was currently working on finding a way to resolve the travel issue.
Mrs Grant said: “Patients travelling from Skye and the west coast three times a week to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness for treatment is not acceptable in this day and age.
“This is a particularly long journey to make and also expensive for those having to travel and NHS Highland with regard to expenses.
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“I understand that this is a challenging situation for NHS Highland to address given the fluctuations in demand for such services in the Isle of Skye.
“But I would have thought having a dialysis machine located in Broadford Hospital would be the answer.”
Doanld MacIntosh said his mother Jean requires to travel three times a week from Loch Duich on Skye to Inverness for dialysis.
He said she gets collected in the morning, then travels by taxi to Raigmore Hospital to have four hours of dialysis, before having to return home.
He added: “Its a very long day and tiring.We have been lucky with the weather conditions this year but the day could be much longer in bad weather, by the time mum gets home shes often doest have a meal as its so late.”
Highland Councillor Biz Campbell, who knows some of the families involved, said: “Those people are under a lot of stress due to their illness and having to travel three times a week to Inverness for kidney dialysis is dreadful.
“For them to keep alive to have to travel so far for kidney dialysis is dreadful, when Broadford Hospital, on their doorstep, could have a machine.”
Tracy Ligema, NHS Highland’s head of community services for north and west division, said: “There is no doubt that the travelling added to the dialysis treatment is hard, and the impact on the individual is of great concern.
“I would seek to reassure you that these concerns have been raised and discussed locally and with renal services in Inverness.
“Work is being undertaken between the local management team and renal services with the aim of agreeing a solution to provide a local dialysis service that can respond to the current need.”
When a patient’s kidneys fail, dialysis treatment keeps the body in balance by removing waste, salt and extra water to prevent them from building up in the body.
Two families who are experiencing the problems of travelling from Skye and Wester Ross to Inverness have spoken out.
Donald MacIntosh, whose mother Jean, from Loch Duich, requires the treatment, said: “Mum has been suffering from reduced renal function for a few years, but in May mum suffered a ruptured spleen and was in intensive care in raigmore for five weeks and then the general ward for 2 weeks before returning home.
“As a result her renal function has been severely affected and has to have dialysis now.
“That involves traveling to Raigmore three days a week – Monday, wednesday and Friday. We are fortunate NHS supply taxis they collect mum between 10.30am and midday then to Inverness for 2pm for four hours of dialysis and usually leave raigmore by 7pm so home between 8.30 and 9.30pm.
“It’s a very long day and tiring, we have been lucky with the weather conditions this year but the day could be much longer in bad weather, by the time mum gets home shes often doesn’t have a meal as it’s so late.
“We are very grateful to the renal unit for their care but feel the travel is such a lot as Broadford hospital is 30 minutes away so could take five hours a day instead of nearly 10 hours.”
Brenda Hamilton is travelling from Plockton in Wester Ross to Inverness for treatment,
She said: “I have been going back and forward to Inverness for more than three years with a short gap when I did home dialysis.
“When I go to Inverness I do three-and-a-half hours, three days a week, but at home I had to do two-and-a-half hours five days a week.
“There is a lot of setting up to do so it basically took all morning.
“There was an excellent phone contact if you had problems but if there was a real problem (e.g. I couldn’t get the needles in) I would still have to go to Inverness.
“Sometimes my blood pressure drops too low and you have to have oxygen which you don’t have at home.
“I have to say that the renal unit in Inverness is wonderful and the nurses are excellent. The worst thing about it is the travelling. I get picked up about 11.15am and don’t get home till any time between 8pm and 9pm, which as you can imagine is very tiring.
“There are five of us in the Kyle area having dialysis and at present one is having home dialysis but would prefer to go to Broadford if that was possible. As you can imagine the taxi fares for travelling are quite substantial.”