NHS Shetland has admitted it can do more to reduce the number of patients who need to travel south for health care.
The health board said it is working hard on the issue after local MSP Tavish Scott raised concerns about government figures showing 1,107 Shetland residents were admitted to mainland hospitals last year, an increase of 200 from 2010.
The MSP his recent survey showed people were frustrated at having to travel for treatment unavailable locally.
He added that last year alone the NHS spent £2 million on flights sending patients south.
“Local people would rather have appointments and where possible, medical procedures in Lerwick,” he said.
“Travelling to Aberdeen or further afield is a very hard on people of all ages. That is especially so for elderly people. I meet folk at Sumburgh every week facing an arduous journey south.
“Much of the time this cannot be helped. People have to travel away for medical needs where the treatment is only available in Aberdeen or in another Scottish hospital.
“But there are a range of routine procedures, which medical staff tell me could be done in the Gilbert Bain Hospital.
“Many Shetlanders find themselves travelling to Aberdeen to see a consultant for less than an hour. Some of this could certainly be done by video conferencing or telephone.
“The bill for travel too is enormous and that eats into the budget that NHS Shetland has to spend on vital local health services.
“So repatriating health services to Shetland would be better for the well-being of islanders. Travelling further afield is not only an inconvenience but can aggravate the health conditions which patients are being referred for. It would also save the NHS having to foot the bill for the considerable cost of patient travel.
“I would also expect consultants to visit patients in Shetland more frequently, rather than having residents travel to Aberdeen so regularly.
“As winter arrives the Scottish government must work with NHS Shetland and their staff to bring as many health services to Shetland as possible.”
NHS Shetland chief executive RalphRoberts expressed sympathy for patients who face long trips south for care and admitted the local health board could do more to help the situation.
Talks are currently underway in an attempt to alleviate the problem and bring more services to Shetland, he said.
“While we recognise that there will always be conditions where it is better for patients to travel to the mainland and have the same access to a specialist as anyone else in Scotland we also want to provide more services locally.
“Our clinical staff provide a valuable local service and can support patients, for example, to receive follow up locally and with the use of video conferencing (VC).
“This is a priority, both because this will improve the care and experience for patients and their carers but also because of the travel costs.
“We are therefore, for example, in the process of repatriating gynaecology services and a number of our GP practices and services already support patients through a VC appointment.
“However, we would agree that there is more we can do and are working with local staff and services in Aberdeen on this.”