5. To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the short review into cancer pathway arrangements and reimbursement of travel expenses for patients in Dumfries and Galloway, which it committed to carrying out on 24 November 2020. (S5O-05150)
As I have previously explained, the pressures of the pandemic mean that NHS Dumfries and Galloway and the board’s partners have paused reviewing cancer pathways, which is a complex piece of work. They will return to the issue in the spring. As we see case numbers come down, the pressure on Dumfries and Galloway lessens.
I have set out in the chamber that the patient travel guidance will be comprehensively reviewed and will take full account of the matters that Ms Harper raises. The review is a substantial exercise for the Government and NHS boards, which requires prioritisation alongside our response not only to the pandemic but to the remobilisation of services. Further updates will be provided as the review progresses.
I thank the cabinet secretary for everything that she has done in this Parliament and wish her all the very best for the future.
My constituent Dr Gordon Baird, on behalf of Galloway community hospital action group, lodged a petition that urges the Scottish Government to explore the creation of an agency, or a commissioner, to address the health needs of people in rural Scotland. Australia has already done that. I am due to meet Australia’s regional health minister to hear whether something like that could be established to support people across Stranraer and Wigtownshire. Is the Government, in principle, open to looking at the creation of a rural health commissioner?
I am happy to go beyond that principle. I know that Emma Harper will be familiar with Professor Sir Lewis Ritchie, who has undertaken considerable and valuable work for us in looking at remote and rural medicine, instituting a number of improvements and, importantly, listening to practitioners in those areas. I am very happy to let Ms Harper and other members know that work is under way to establish a national institute for remote and rural medicine and healthcare practice. Should the Scottish National Party be returned to Government following the election, we will take every step to ensure that that is put in place as soon as possible.
On the issue of the reimbursement of patients’ travel expenses, will the Scottish Government consider reviewing the reimbursement of chronic pain patients who have been forced to travel to England and pay privately for pain relief because Scottish national health service pain clinics were closed during earlier lockdowns? Of course, some patients are still having to go to England as waiting times have doubled.
I, too, wish the cabinet secretary all the best for the future.
Elaine Smith has been a doughty champion of that and many other issues during her time in Parliament, and I extend my wishes to her.
Elaine Smith raises a really important point. She knows that the current legislation, and the legal advice on it, prevents us from using public funds to reimburse patients where out-of-area treatment has not been on the basis of an NHS Scotland referral. However, as she will know, I hope, today we announced our intention, should this SNP Government be returned, to introduce legislation to ensure that mesh-injured women who have sought private treatment out of area can be reimbursed. I would hope that my successor will consider what other areas might also be appropriate for reimbursement.