Question Time — Scottish Executive — Health and Wellbeing – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:15 pm on 4th December 2008.

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Photo of Nanette Milne Nanette Milne Conservative 2:15 pm, 4th December 2008

To ask the Scottish Executive whether it is satisfied that as much as possible is being done to introduce telehealth links ensuring easier, faster and more local access to health care. (S3O-5060)

Photo of Shona Robison Shona Robison Scottish National Party

The Scottish Government established the Scottish Centre for Telehealth in 2005 to facilitate the national introduction of telehealth services. There are many good examples of how the centre is helping to bring patients closer to health services, including testing access to hospital specialists from the homes of patients with chronic illnesses, such as motor neurone disease and epilepsy, and extending the use of telemedicine in areas such as unscheduled care and paediatrics. Looking to the future, the centre intends to mainstream such uses throughout Scotland where appropriate.

The Scottish Centre for Telehealth is nearing the end of its third year of existence and a review of its work is under way. That review will be complete by the end of January next year.

Photo of Nanette Milne Nanette Milne Conservative

I understand that the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing will visit the telehealth centre in the near future. I hope that she is as impressed with what she sees there as Mary Scanlon and I were during our recent visit to the centre.

What practical steps are being taken to accelerate the extension of small-scale pilot schemes through to comprehensive national adoption of telehealth services, which I am in no doubt would be cost effective for the NHS?

Photo of Shona Robison Shona Robison Scottish National Party

The cabinet secretary will visit the telehealth centre on Monday, where she will see for herself the excellent work that is going on there. We have supported that work with resources over the past three years. The review that I mentioned will report early in the new year. Funding will be considered in relation to the outcome of that review.

The member asked about the work that the telehealth centre has been involved in. It has developed a number of interesting services. In Orkney, there is a service for patients with suspected minor stroke. In the Western Isles and Shetland, there are ear, nose and throat tele-endoscopy clinics for patients. We want to consider how the services that have been developed in those areas can be used elsewhere. It is about providing the evidence base for how we would do that. Of course, we would expect to share that learning with other boards and that they would use that information. Such work is especially relevant in areas such as the Highlands and Islands. Not only can it produce a better health care system for patients, but it is very cost effective.

Photo of Ian McKee Ian McKee Scottish National Party

We have talked about the benefits of telemedicine for patients in their own homes, especially in remote or rural areas, but is the minister aware of the potential use of telemedicine to prioritise the patients who would benefit from early intervention and treatment in specialist centres? If given priority, those patients could be given the treatment that they need as quickly as possible.

Photo of Shona Robison Shona Robison Scottish National Party

Yes, I am aware of that potential. The development of telehealth—and, of course, telecare, which is separate but linked—has potential in many areas. We must use the technology to our best advantage.

I have said before and I will say again that we are only scratching the surface of the potential of both telehealth and telecare. I want us to step up their use in future—not only because of the demographic challenges that will face us, but because such systems will be better for patients in many respects. For example, patients may not have to travel to specialist clinics or other services.

I agree with the point that the member makes, and I will be happy to keep him informed of progress.