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Cancer patients face longer journeys

CANCER patients from Shetland and Orkney are being told they may have to receive radiotherapy in hospitals outside Aberdeen due to a shortage of oncologists.

Shetland MSP Tavish Scott said on Monday he had been contacted by patients who have been told they may have to travel to Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee or Inverness for treatment.

NHS Grampian has apologised “unreservedly” for the problem, which it blamed a nationwide shortage of oncologists for leaving two posts unfilled.

Scott has now written to Scottish health minister Alex Neil asking for northern isles patients to be prioritised for treatment by NHS Grampian so they can avoid long journeys and can take advantage of accommodation at Aberdeen’s CLAN House.

He said CLAN was especially important to old and vulnerable patients and their families who might use the accommodation facilities for three or four weeks at a time.

“Many Shetlanders find CLAN a boon and comfort for such a traumatic time,” he said.

“These invaluable CLAN facilities will not be available of Shetlanders are pushed to other parts of Scotland.

“I would be very worried as to how Shetland patients would be dealt with indifferent health board areas.”

Radiotherapy sometimes can go on from Monday to Friday, though it may only take as little as seven minutes a day.

However as treatment continues and patients tire, it becomes harder for them to face the prospect of travelling home at weekends.

“Aberdeen to Shetland is not a straight forward travel journey. As a result many Shetlanders do not return home for fear of delays in travel hindering getting back on the Monday,” the MSP added.

“Where a patient stays is of vital importance. CLAN offers a place where people are comfortable, can do washing, cook a meal and with support and help on hand.

“I believe that constituents undertaking radiotherapy treatment from Orkney and Shetland should be prioritised to be cared for within NHS Grampian given the CLAN service which is so sensibly integrated with Aberdeen Royal Infirmary and I am asking that the health minister makes this happen.”

A spokesman for NHS Grampian confirmed that patients were being told they might have to travel further for treatment, but they were working hard to recruit to the two empty posts.

“We will continue to provide as much follow-up and side effect care locally as possible, and it is our intention to re-establish a full service in Grampian as soon as possible,” he said.

“However, we do understand it is very difficult for patients and their families. It is not a position we would choose to be in, and apologise unreservedly to those involved.

“All travel and associated costs incurred by the patient and a companion will be met.”