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An Isles MP has blasted the Hebrides’ ‘degraded’ transport system, after a patient on the Isle of Barra endured a 41-hour return journey for a 10- minute medical appointment on Lewis.
Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil is calling for joint working to radically improve patient travel arrangements between the islands.
Mr MacNeil was contacted by Barra’s main care provider, Cobhair Bharraigh, who informed him of a patient’s 41-hour return journey to an appointment in Stornoway which took 10 minutes, versus the 28 hours it might take to travel to and from Glasgow.
Mr MacNeil is calling on NHS Western Isles, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and the Scottish Government to improve the travel arrangements for patients between Barra, Uist and Stornoway, to allow patients to get to hospital appointments in a timely and decent manner.
Mr MacNeil said: ‘Over the last number of years we’ve seen a degradation in the transport system in the Hebrides meaning it is now easier – and faster – to go to Edinburgh or London or even Brussels than it is to go from one end of the Hebrides to the other.
‘At the moment, people have unacceptably long journeys, of ferries, overnight stays and then a flight to get to Stornoway, then all day to wait to get a flight back with the hope it is not delayed so there is another overnight stay before getting home.
‘For now, the fastest way to get to Stornoway from Barra is via Glasgow. Therefore, action has to be taken, either flying via Glasgow to get to Stornoway or instead using Glasgow hospitals to avoid the difficult journeys patients have had as highlighted by Barra’s Care organisation in a letter to members of parliament, the Comhairle and NHS Western Isles.’
A NHS Western Isles spokesperson said: ‘The flight schedule had been changed by Loganair and we acknowledge there is a reduction in flights from Benbecula to Stornoway. This is out with NHS Western Isles’ control.
‘The 8.45am flight is the direct to Glasgow flight on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and on Tuesday and Thursday the Glasgow flight is not until 11am to allow a return flight to Stornoway.
‘Where we can, we make adjustments to arrangements to minimise the impact on patients. We have also significantly increased the number of appointments held virtually to help prevent travel for appointments, where this is appropriate and possible.
‘We would not send patients outwith the board area for an appointment or treatment that can be provided by the host board.’
The Comhairle nan Eilean Siar responded that it ‘will continue to lobby for additional funds to allow for a return to a five-day service’.
A Scottish Government spokesperson added: ‘We recognise some patients living in more rural parts of Scotland such as the Hebrides will have greater distances to travel to attend medical appointments.
‘Should any patient need to travel for treatment, we expect Scottish NHS boards to have appropriate processes in place to enable this access. Guidance has been issued to Boards to ensure that services are always provided in the best interests of the patient.
‘The Highlands and Islands Patient Travel Scheme is in place to provide financial assistance with travel costs to any patient more than 30 miles away from the hospital they are attending.’