Cash-strapped NHS defends Utah trips
Travel: Budget-cutting trust made 43 foreign trips costing £18,360
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