Working group to examine islands’ patient escort policy

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan. NO F20 Alasdair Allan MSP

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News has been welcomed that a working group will be convened to review NHS Western Isles’ system for approving funding for patient escorts.

The move comes after patient groups felt criteria to get escort funding for mainland appointments was being much more strictly enforced.

Last year, NHS Western Isles announced a new system for approving such requests, with the health board making the decision. Previously, it had been the responsibility of the patient’s GP.

It since appeared to patient groups that the criteria was being much more strictly enforced, resulting in increasing numbers of people having their applications for a patient escort refused.

Patient advocacy groups, led by the Western Isles Cancer Care Initiative (WICCI), have been pushing for a more patient-centred form of approval for patient escorts.

After a petition by WICCI that gained more than 1,500 signatures, and lobbying of the Scottish Government by Isles MSP Alasdair Allan, the Cabinet Secretary for Health Jeane Freeman has now ordered NHS Western Isles to convene a working group as a matter of priority to review the process and take steps where required to ensure it is patient-centred and operates in such a way that best supports patients in making applications.

Dr Allan said: ‘Far too many islanders have been travelling to the mainland to receive a diagnosis for cancer, or another condition with life-changing implications, with no emotional support from a friend of loved one. There has been a lack of dialogue with patient advocacy groups. I look forward to seeing what comes out of the working group and I hope we will see a more patient-centred policy going forward.

Helen Sandison, from the Western Isles Cancer Care Initiative, added: ‘WICCI very much welcome the intervention by Ms Freeman on the issue of patient escort travel.

‘For many months now we have heard first hand of several patients struggling to either obtain escort permission and have to cope financially when a request is refused or to appeal a decision at a time when they could well do without the stress and upset.

‘We are delighted that Ms Freeman has directly requested a focus group be established and a response to be brought back to her by mid-July.  We will happily contribute to that group. We already have nominees from the Men’s Cancer Group, Neuro Hebrides and the WI Carers, Users & Supporters Network to take part in discussion too.’