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Rhoda Grant MSP has criticised the delay to the escort application process review.

A delay to a peer review of the NHS Western Isles (NHSWI) escort application process has been criticised by Rhoda Grant, Regional Labour MSP for the Highlands and Islands.

Chief Executives of NHS Orkney and NHS Shetland, via a working group, were supposed to have completed a review of how NHSWI approved patient escorts by October 27. 

However, in an October 31 letter sent to Ms Grant, Alasdair Allan MSP, and Angus MacNeil MP from Richard McCallum, Director of Health and Social Care Finance, Digital and Governance, it was noted that ensuring representation from all relevant patient groups would mean work would go past the original deadline.  

Speaking of the delay, Ms Grant said: “Last week it was confirmed that the peer review of the NHS Western Isles’ escorts approvals process would not be delivered by the 27th October deadline. 

“It is disappointing that, months after the peer review was requested, the only thing that the Scottish Government have been able to provide is the scope of the review.

“This review is essential and urgent as it is clear that the funding process for those travelling with patients is putting Western Isles patients at a significant disadvantage. The latest delay gives the impression that the review has not been made the priority that it deserves to be.

“My hope is that the review will be delivered soon. Once delivered I hope that the reviews conclusions shed light on shortcomings in the escorts process, and any recommendations the review makes are taken seriously by NHS Western Isles and the Scottish Government.”

The peer review had been requested on July 5, with an eye to investigate concerns that decision making for approving patient escorts was unduly tough, disadvantaged Western Isles residents, and did not incorporate medical opinion from treating practitioners. 

A working group of three members of both NHS Orkney and NHS Shetland was assembled, which was to focus on four areas: operating context of the Highlands and Islands Travel Scheme (HITS) policy in NHSWI; review of the escort process in accordance of HITS policy; audit and benchmarking of the escort process with other island boards; and the audit of complaints regarding utility of escorts.

Mr McCallum's letter does not state when the peer review will now be complete.

Responding to a request to comment on Ms Grant's criticism, a Scottish Government spokesperson said: “NHS Orkney and Shetland were asked to extend their proposed scope to include representation from patient groups. While this piece of work goes beyond October, it is an important part of ensuring that concerns relating to NHS Western Isles’ escorts approvals process are appropriately considered.

“The output of the review will be given careful consideration once it has concluded in full.”


Note: This article was updated on November 20 to include the response from the Scottish Government.