NHS-funded patient escort system ‘too restrictive’

© NHS Western IslesNHS Western Isles has published its draft Gaelic Language Plan for consultation
NHS Western Isles has published its draft Gaelic Language Plan for consultation

The policy of providing NHS-funded patient escorts in the Western Isles is too restrictive, says the local MSP.

Alasdair Allan has invited the chief executive of NHS Western Isles to a meeting to discuss the health board’s system of approving NHS-funded patient escorts.

In many cases patients travelling off-island for treatment to mainland hospitals require an escort to accompany them.

NHS Western Isles announced a new system for approving requests for funded escorts earlier this year, with the health board’s medical director now making the decision where this had previously been the responsibility of the patient’s GP.

While there were no changes made to the criteria for approving escorts or to the patient travel policy, it appears the criteria are now being much more strictly enforced.

This has resulted in the local MSP taking up a number of cases of constituents who had requests for escorts refused.

Mr Allan said: “I have seen a marked increase in the number of people contacting me to say the health board has refused their request for an escort. In many cases people were very distressed, and any compassionate person viewing their situation would understand the need for someone to be with them.

“There are a range of organisations throughout the islands who have written to the health board expressing similar concerns. Overall, it does feel as though the current policy is far too restrictive.

“I have written to the chief executive of NHS Western Isles, Gordon Jamieson, asking him to meet with interested organisations and myself to discuss these at a roundtable event.”

A spokeswoman for NHS Western Isles said: “A new system for approving requests for NHS-funded escorts has been introduced, to ensure that an equitable system is delivered across the Western Isles.

“The NHS Western Isles Patient Travel Policy sets out the criteria by which funding of escorts is approved – which is strictly based on clinical need.”