NHS Borders bosses defend sending patients to travel further afield for treatment

Glasgow's Queen Elizabeth University Hospital. Picture: Emma Mitchell
Glasgow's Queen Elizabeth University Hospital. Picture: Emma Mitchell

Health chiefs in the Borders have hit back at criticism over the number of patients they send further afield for treatment.

Patients are always treated at the Borders General Hospital in Melrose, or at one of the region’s smaller hospitals, if possible and only sent elsewhere for specialised treatment not available here, according to NHS Borders medical director Cliff Sharp.

“NHS Borders always endeavours to provide patient care locally if we possibly can,” said Dr Sharp.

“Some particular conditions require patients to receive highly specialist care only available at specialist centres located out with the Scottish Borders area.

“For example, the majority of patients sent outwith the area receive specialised treatment at NHS Lothian for cancer, such as radiotherapy, and specialist surgical procedures like complex spinal surgery, neurosurgery, complex cardiac surgery and reconstructive surgery.

“Those very specialist treatments are most safely provided in tertiary centres like Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and occasionally Newcastle, which is in the overall best interests of Borders patients.”

He was responding to a call by Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire MSP Rachael Hamilton for fewer patients to be forced to travel to England or Glasgow or Edinburgh for treatment.

That call followed the release of figures, in response to a freedom-of-information request by her office, revealing that 26,291 Borders patients were sent elsewhere for treatment over the past three years.

That means round trips of 180 miles to the Golden Jubilee National Hospital at Clydebank or Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital or 140 miles to Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary or Ashington’s Wansbeck General Hospital, and that could cause extra anxiety for patients, says Mrs Hamilton.

She added: “In some cases, it is unavoidable for a patient to stay within their health board area. However, concerns do arise when a patient has to make almost a 200-mile round trip for treatment or a cross-border visit.

“I am sure, where possible and for the majority of folk, it would be preferable to be close to home and stay within their health board than make a journey to unfamiliar surroundings and avoid the extra stress and anxiety such a journey can cause.”

Mrs Hamilton said she plans to ask Scottish Government health and sport secretary Shona Robison if anything can be done to cut travelling times for patients.