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Sturgeon backs new NHS patient travel policy

SHETLAND MSP Tavish Scott has reacted angrily after Nicola Sturgeon appeared to support NHS Shetland’s controversial new patient travel policy during First Minister’s Question Time on Thursday.

Scott said Sturgeon did not answer any of his questions on the issue and had instead come to the defence of NHS Shetland.

He said: “Shetland patients, many of whom have been in touch since Tuesday, will be very disappointed the First Minister did not respond to their concerns.

“Does she really think a 14 hour overnight ferry crossing of the North Sea in winter is an acceptable alternative to the plane for patients?”

The Lib Dem politician had urged the First Minister to intervene in the issue as NHS Shetland had neither consulted on the changes or assessed how the new policy would affect patients in the isles.

He also asked Sturgeon to ensure commercial negotiations take place with Loganair aimed at reducing flying costs and therefore saving money.

Responding to Scott’s question, the First Minister said: “NHS Shetland has already provided assurance that decisions about travel arrangements will continue to be clinically led, and patients for whom ferry transport is not suitable will continue to be offered air travel.

“It is vital that the board ensures that it continues to provide high quality direct patient care for the people of Shetland, and we will continue to work with it to reduce the number of patients who need to travel at all, for appointments or treatment, by expanding the use of video consultations on Shetland, for example.

“I will ensure that Tavish Scott’s comments are conveyed to NHS Shetland, and I am sure that the cabinet secretary for health and sport will be happy to meet him to discuss the issues in more detail.”

Scott added: “The First Minister said that clinical judgment will determine who goes on the plane. That will place our local GPs in an invidious position.

“They will be forced by NHS Shetland to make this decision every day. I think that is unfair. This policy has not been assessed or thought through. Nor has there been any consultation. Nor has the NHS sought to negotiate a better deal with Loganair and save money. For such a major change, that is not good enough.

“I will be writing to the First Minister to ask her to take Shetland’s concerns seriously. I was puzzled that she said she would bring my concerns to the attention of NHS Highland. They have nothing to do with this wrong policy.”