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New diagnostic technology for people with potentially life-threatening cardiac conditions is being trialled by NHS Western Isles ahead of anywhere else in Scotland.

The new HeartFlow scanning process was among innovations shown to Scottish Government health and social care secretary Humza Yousaf MSP, during his day-long visit to Western Isles Hospital today (Friday 12 August).

Mr Yousaf was shown how HeartFlow brings together human ingenuity and advanced technology to help combat the number one cause of death in the developed world, heart disease.

HeartFlow uses CT technology to scan potentially narrowed or constricted coronary arteries, sending images to a specialist centre in the USA, where artificial intelligence (AI) is used to determine whether the patient needs intervention or not – all within two hours.

Explaining the procedure, NHS Western Isles chief executive Gordon Jamieson said: “This is a first in Scotland and is now being used for patients who we would normally send to Glasgow for diagnostic tests.

“Now we can use HeartFlow with artificial intelligence in the USA, telling us whether the narrowing will cause problems or not, so we can target treatment for people who actually need an intervention.

“In the past everybody would have to go to Glasgow for an intervention – to have a stent fitted or for other treatment, but the AI looks at the same narrowing and tells us whether we need to do anything.

“We can sort out who actually needs to go to Glasgow and who can be medically managed here in Stornoway, which saves people going through the travelling, the stress and anxiety and a potentially risky procedure.”

Mr Yousaf was also shown a new service which will transform the way many patients undergo investigation for bowel problems.

The colon capsule endoscopy (CCE) – a small capsule with a camera at either end – is swallowed by the patient and takes tens of thousands of pictures as it travels through the bowel, before being passed and flushed away.

And he learnt how NHS Western Isles now delivers intravenous antibiotic therapy at home to the highest proportion of patients of all Scottish Health Boards, through the Hospital at Home scheme – a ‘virtual ward’ which allows patients to receive treatment at home instead of a hospital admission. 

While saying that he was impressed by these innovations, Mr Yousaf said his primary purpose in coming to the islands was to thank NHS staff, in person and face-to-face, for their continued hard work under demanding circumstances, both during and after the pandemic.

Mr Yousaf told welovestornoway.com: “I wanted to look people in the eye and to thank them personally. Today I have spoken to people who have been working in the NHS for 20 or 30 years and who have said that this has been the most difficult period of their working lives.

“Technology is a great enabler, and today I have learnt how, up to June this year, schemes like the Hospital at Home scheme have saved 180 bed days at this hospital, which is quite significant when all our hospitals are facing such great pressure.

“But I’ve also been pleasantly surprised and pleased at how enthusiastic people are, and have been throughout this period, about the job they are doing.

“That is exceptionally noticeable here, and it’s not because other hospitals don’t enjoy their work, but because of just how much pressure they are under. People frequently use the word relentless.

“Today I have spoken to a student nurse, locum doctors, junior doctors, nurses who have worked here for 30 years and they all tell me that this is a great place to work, that they wouldn’t want to work anywhere else.

“That says a lot about the culture here, the professional development opportunities for staff and the management of the service.”

Chief executive Gordon Jamieson was himself struck by the very positive response the health secretary showed to the staff of the hospital.

He said: “Mr Yousaf was impressed by how upbeat and enthusiastic the staff here have been throughout his visit. He could tell that teams were very much working together and had a ‘can-do’ approach when it came to the care of patients.”

In a relaxed and detailed tour of the hospital, Mr Yousaf met staff on medical and surgical wards, clinical staff who helped to deliver the vaccination programme during the Covid pandemic, Macmillan Cancer Care specialists and radiotherapy staff among many others.

He later visited the Goathill Care Home development, which is now expected to open between October this year and January 2023.

Health and social care secretary Humza Yousaf MSP is pictured with NHSWI chair Gillian McCannon and chief executive Gordon Jamieson during his tour of the hospital, and with medical and clinical staff including some of those who delivered the Coronavirus vaccination programme.