Members of the Hebridean Men's Cancer Support Group have appealed to the Western Isles NHS board about the NHS paying for the cost of patient escorts.

The Hebridean Mens Cancer Support Group committee recently met Dr Angus McKellar, the islands Medical Director, to discuss the issue.

The NHS Board recently announced that decisions on travel assistance would be taken at head office level, rather than in individual practices and highlighted the fact that there were considerable variations between one practice and another in implementing the existing policy.

In response to Dr McKellar, the group said it was pleased to have it confirmed that travel by air is the default position for NHS Western Isles.

The committee said it “notes that a paid escort will always be provided when a patient goes for treatment.

“The committee is disappointed to learn that WIHB is seeking to move from a position where paid escorts will be agreed for all cancer patients travelling to hospital on the mainland for cancer diagnosis to be confirmed.

“The committee does not consider the pilot with Langabhat and Broadbay practices to have been a ‘success’ as you averred.

“Removing decision making in this matter from the practice to the Medical Director can not be described as success as it merely displaces the pressure felt by the practices on to the patient. That is not what the NHS is about.

“The NHS should deliver a comprehensive service ‘free at the point of delivery’.

“That begins in the doctor’s surgery when a decision is taken to refer a patient to a mainland hospital.

“From that time forward all care must be free and, if you live on an island, that includes travel.

“There must be no question of introducing a means test. Nor should patients be placed in a position of even more stress.

“The committee commend the position of Shetland Health Board to you in this matter. SHB advocates that paid escorts be provided,

 “The committee supports the principle of repatriation of services to the island. If that process allows patients to have family and medical support here on the island, that would be preferable to the present system.

“However, as long as specialists insist on patients going to the mainland for a consultation paid escorts must be provided.

“The committee has seen evidence that some consultants insist not only on seeing patients in a mainland clinic but make it clear that the patient must be escorted.

“The committee is happy to meet again to take part in discussions towards evolving a policy on escorts. It does appear to us that you are arguing with patients when your argument should be with the Scottish Government. Any future policy should have patient care at the core of it.

“The position argued by HMCSG on behalf of cancer patients has the support of all cancer support groups locally and Macmillan nationally.”

NHS Travel policy -