Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan and Western Isles patient groups have welcomed the news that a working group will be convened to review NHS Western Isles’ system for approving funding for patient escorts.

Patients travelling off-island for treatment to mainland hospitals will, in many cases, require an escort to accompany them. Last year, NHS Western Isles announced a new system for approving requests for NHS-funded escorts, with the Health Board making the decision where this had previously been the responsibility of the patient’s GP.

While there were no changes made to the criteria for approving escorts or to the Patient Travel Policy, it appeared to patient groups that the criteria were being much more strictly enforced, leading to 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.

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

Alasdair Allan MSP commented:

“This is a really important step forward and I am grateful for the Cabinet Secretary’s intervention.

“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 commented:

“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.

“As mentioned in her letter to WIHB, it is essential that the process for funding escorts is patient centred, and we aim to work constructively with the WIHB to make it so. Thank you to the thousands of Western Isles residents who signed our petition and who have contributed to our survey, also to our MSP Dr Alasdair Allan and his staff and MSP Rhoda Grant for raising this issue with the Cabinet Secretary.”

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