NHS Western Isles has stressed to patients that there have been no major changes to its Patient Escort Policy in the wake of campaigners launching a petition.
Previously GPs would have the final say over approving escorts to accompany patients, but in a bid to cut back on a £31million spend over the past decade, that decision was transferred to the medical director of the board.
NHS Western Isles yesterday cited “significant variation” between GP practices as the cause of change.
Medical director Dr Angus McKellar said: “The standardisation eliminates the variation between GP Practices and ensures that approval for funding is in line with the existing policy, applied in an equitable and fair manner across the Western Isles.
“It has also enabled significant improvements to be made, including the opportunity for patients to give additional information in support of their request for funding; and an extension of funding approval to cover, where appropriate, the entire duration of a treatment course or, in some cases, permanent approval.”
NHS Western Isles stressed that a decision to determine an escort to accompany patients should be made within 48 hours, with reviews determined within 24 hours.
The health board have also stated they do not have the resources to fund escorts that do not meet the criteria set out in its policy, with campaigners calling for changes to be made to that criteria to ensure compassion is portrayed.
Campaigners are calling for those attending mainland appointments for a potentially life-changing diagnosis to automatically be entitled to an escort; escorts to be provided for recurring appointments after diagnosis and for specialist nurses involved in patients care to be given the authority to approve recommended escorts.
The petition, once complete, will be delivered to the board of NHS Western Isles and Health Secretary for the Scottish Government, Jeane Freeman.