press ahead with a private discussion of its controversial decision to make an overnight ferry journey the default option for patients travelling to Aberdeen after objections from two board members.NHS SHETLAND chairman Ian Kinniburgh has decided to
Board member Malcolm Bell said he had written twice to Kinniburgh and chief executive Ralph Roberts setting out why he felt holding the whole discussion in private was unjustified, but had not received a response.
Bell, who voted against the measure last month, accepted parts of the report contained sensitive information, but “that could easily be held in private with the bulk of the report being held in public”.
“There’s clearly a legitimate public interest and a legitimate public expectation that the discussion would be held in public,” he said, adding it would “go a long way to satisfy the concern about the way we’re dealing with it, and to help increase confidence in NHS Shetland, because that has been damaged over the last two to three weeks”.
“My mailbox has been full with concerns – some very legitimate concerns – and that’s why I believe holding this entirely in private will increase those concerns.”
Kinniburgh responded by saying it would be “very, very difficult to control the debate” when it came to discussing potential savings that may be achievable through Loganair.
Talks with the airline are ongoing and it is understood a deal has been floated which could save NHS Shetland around £200,000-£300,000 on patient travel.
Roberts said there had been "positive discussions" with Loganair, which the health board will still rely on for "clinically appropriate travel", and those talks are continuing.
The health board hopes to save £1 million from its £2.7 million travel budget by switching the bulk of patients to traveling on NorthLink’s passenger ferries, though others dispute whether that sum can be realised.
Public opposition to the policy - which would result in many patients travelling for treatment or appointments facing a 12 or 14-hour overnight journey by sea - has been substantial.
Kinniburgh said that in order to offer assurances to islanders, “we need to be absolutely clear around the criteria for things like clinical exemption”.
Board member Andy Glen, who is resigning in order to take up a new job in Dumfries and Galloway, also said he would “much rather have the debate in public”. No vote was taken on the matter.
At the board’s meeting at Montfield on Tuesday morning, members also heard a short statement from Suzy Jolly, who set up one of three petitions currently gathering signatures in opposition to the policy.
Her change.org online petition has gathered 219 supporters, far fewer than the 1,289 who have signed another petition on the same website started by Hugh Harrop, who was not present at the meeting. A third - paper - petition was launched by Bob Birchall last week.
Jolly pointed out that Orcadians still have the right to fly and suggested NHS Shetland’s policy was against the law.
“How come we’re expected to do a 12-hour journey and they’re not?” she asked. “It’s illegal for you to treat us less favourably under the NHS Scotland policies.”
She described the policy as “despicable and outrageous” and said “certain members of the board are treating the people they are supposed to represent with absolute, utter contempt”.
After presenting her petition to Kinniburgh, she left the meeting saying “we’re not taking this lying down”.
He said the board would take her comments on board, while it is expected a statement updating the public on the travel policy will be issued following the conclusion of the private discussion.