Cash-strapped NHS de­fends Utah trips

Travel: Bud­get-cut­ting trust made 43 for­eign trips cost­ing £18,360

The Press and Journal (Inverness, Highlands, and Islands) - - FRONT PAGE - BY JAMIE MCKEN­ZIE

NHS HIGH­LAND bosses sent a phar­ma­cist on four 4,500-mile round trips to Amer­ica in four months to learn about “qual­ity im­prove­ment” – to help with a new pro­gramme to cut ru­ral pa­tient travel to In­ver­ness.

The NHS Near Me pro­gramme uses video con­sult­ing tech­nol­ogy as part of a strategy to save on re­turn jour­neys of about 200 miles to Raig­more Hos­pi­tal in In­ver­ness from var­i­ous parts of the High­lands.

But the trips to Salt Lake City – at a cost of £5,505.96 – were deemed nec­es­sary for “face-to-face” learn­ing to help im­ple­ment NHS Near Me. The health board booked 43 flights to Europe and North Amer­ica in a 20-month pe­riod.

The heath board de­fended the spend as a way to en­sure staff learn from in­dus­try ex­perts.

A se­nior NHS High­land phar­ma­cist jet­ted off to Salt Lake City four times in four months to learn about “qual­ity im­prove­ment”, which in­cluded train­ing for a scheme to cut pa­tient travel to In­ver­ness.

The week-long trips to the Utah state capital in the US took place be­tween Fe­bru­ary and May last year – a to­tal dis­tance of 35,752 miles – at a cost of £5,505.96 to the tax­payer in flights and ho­tel bills.

The trips were part of an air travel bill of £158,164 at bud­get-cut­ting NHS High­land be­tween July 2016 and the end of Fe­bru­ary this year.

Most of the flights were within Scot­land to the is­lands or cen­tral belt.

How­ever, 43 for­eign flights – with a price tag of £18,360 – were booked by the health board over the 20-month pe­riod, with other des­ti­na­tions vis­ited in­clud­ing Seat­tle. Madrid, Vi­enna, Am­s­ter­dam and Stock­holm.

An NHS High­land spokesman said a lead phar­ma­cist went to the world-lead­ing In­ter­moun­tain In­sti­tute for Health­care De­liv­ery in Salt Lake City and com­pleted an ad­vanced, four-part train­ing pro­gramme in qual­ity im­prove­ment, a “spe­cific out­come” of which was test­ing and de­vel­op­ing the on­go­ing NHS Near Me pro­gramme.

Near Me al­lows north pa­tients to at­tend clin­ics – as­sisted by a health­care pro­fes­sional – to use video con­sult­ing tech­nol­ogy to have con­sul­ta­tions, in­stead of spend­ing hours trav­el­ling to In­ver­ness and risk­ing can­cel­la­tions due to bad weather.

Caith­ness Health Ac­tion Team (Chat) chair­man Bill Fernie said: “It begs the question, should they not have done the train­ing by video con­fer­ence?

“Peo­ple in Caith­ness I know are speak­ing to rel­a­tives in Aus­tralia, New Zealand and Canada and not go­ing to the places them­selves.

“With the bud­get deficit they are see­ing, I think it’s hard to jus­tify all these long trips. I am not say­ing all of these trips are not ap­pro­pri­ate but I think the pub­lic will be a lit­tle per­turbed.”

An NHS High­land spokesman stressed the train­ing was not just about Near Me and that the staff mem­ber will have “dif­fer­ent lead­er­ship roles” in “qual­ity im­prove­ment” in the fu­ture. And he said the course it­self is only avail­able “face-to­face” and it would have been chal­leng­ing to at­tend such long ses­sions by video con­fer­ence for a week at a time.

The spokesman also said video con­fer­enc­ing would have pre­vented both see­ing the ser­vice pro­vi­sion in ac­tion and net­work­ing, high­light­ing that a mem­ber of the In­ter­moun­tain tele­health pro­gramme has made reg­u­lar con­tact with NHS High­land since.

He added that the mem­ber of staff is also ap­ply­ing the knowl­edge de­vel­oped through the train­ing pro­gramme in a new post.

“With the bud­get deficit they are see­ing, I think it’s hard to jus­tify all these long trips”

How far do we ex­pect our lead­ing health pro­fes­sion­als to go to keep us safe and well? Would four trips in four months from the High­lands to Salt Lake City in the US sound rea­son­able?

To some it might, but oth­ers could be left seek­ing ur­gent treat­ment for se­vere raised-eye­brow syn­drome.

NHS High­land, a body whose own bud­getary state of health is un­der per­ma­nent close scru­tiny to show value for money, has been de­fend­ing the US vis­its.

They sent a phar­ma­cist on four jour­neys stretch­ing 36,000 miles to Salt Lake City - with one of the main aims to learn how to cut ru­ral travel into

In­ver­ness for pa­tients.

The irony will not be lost on High­landers who might be for­given for think­ing that could have been done quicker and more ef­fi­ciently by stay­ing at home. Util­is­ing Skype for longdis­tance study and putting in hun­dreds of miles on the ground across the High­lands might have been bet­ter, they could ar­gue.

It is im­por­tant not to be too parochial about these things and ac­cept that some in­ter­na­tional travel, such as im­por­tant net­work­ing con­fer­ences and hands-on train­ing that can­not be ex­pe­ri­enced in any other way, is es­sen­tial for key peo­ple in our tax­payer-funded bod­ies.

What is also es­sen­tial is that they are able to jus­tify the ex­pense and pro­mote com­plete trans­parency with the pub­lic at all times to main­tain con­fi­dence and trust.

“Could be left seek­ing ur­gent treat­ment for se­vere raisedeye­brow syn­drome”

CON­CERNS: Bill Fernie says the pub­lic may be wor­ried about the flight costs

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