A new twist has added fuel to the fire for health campaigners who have been battling to cut the number of marathon trips outpatients from the far north are making to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness.
It has emerged people have turned up for appointments at the city hospital a few days after or before they could have attended an outpatient clinic with the same consultant in Wick.
NHS Highland’s recently appointed chairman Iain Stewart has resolved to find ways to prevent the daily exodus of outpatients who make the 200-plus mile round trip to Inverness.
Last week, it was revealed several thousand schoolchildren each year face the journey to have their dental braces adjusted and refitted at Raigmore or to see a private orthodontist.
Yesterday the grievance emerged after a Wick couple travelled to Raigmore with their son to see an ear, nose and throat specialist.
Julie Heaton said: “We were in seeing the consultant when he asked why we hadn’t seen him the week before in Wick.
“We both took a day off work and our son lost a day at school and we were in the appointment for about 15 minutes.
“Although we claimed our travel expenses back, we lost £10 of it because we both work full time. It didn’t cover the cost of the fuel money or the food we had to buy for lunch for the three of us.”
Mrs Heaton said it reinforces the need to maximise the facilities at Caithness General so local people do not need to make marathon treks south.
Caithness Health Action Team secretary Maria Aitken said it had heard from another local woman who had specifically asked for an appointment in Wick.
“She was told she had to attend a clinic in Raigmore as her consultant rarely ever goes to Wick.
“She arrived in Raigmore to be told by her consultant that he was to be in Wick the following week.”
Mrs Aitken said the two cases were by no means exceptional.
She said the health board’s feedback team has appealed for other Caithness patients to let them know if they have had similar experiences.
NHS Highland has been looking at ways to reduce the number of patients who have to travel to Inverness for short-review appointments.
An NHS Highland spokesman said: “We aim wherever we can to treat patients as close to home as possible.
“Without knowing the specifics of these complaints it is difficult to comment any further.
“If there is a need for communications to be more clear in relation to visiting clinics, it would certainly be something which we would like to look into.
“We would, therefore, ask anyone who has a complaint like this to let us know so that we can look into the specific circumstances.”