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Stone says arrangements for Caithness patients undertaking psychological therapies online are 'unsuitable'

By Gordon Calder

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THE arrangements for Caithness patients undertaking psychological therapies online are "unsuitable", according to far north MP, Jamie Stone.

He wrote to Scottish Health Secretary, Humza Yousaf, to express his concerns after being contacted by a Thurso patient who is unhappy with the service and the lack of face-to-face appointments since the Covid pandemic almost two years ago.

The Caithness, Sutherland and easter Ross MP said there are issues over the management of patient safety during a therapy session if a professional clinician is not in the room. Mr Stone was told by his constituent that NHS Highland will call on the emergency services to attend the patient if they hang up or switch off from a session.

Jamie Stone says arrangements for online psychological treatments are 'unsuitable'
Jamie Stone says arrangements for online psychological treatments are 'unsuitable'

In his letter, the Liberal Democrat MP, said: "At a time when patients in the Highlands are being told to stay away from accident and emergency, and paramedics in the Highlands are citing wait times of up to four hours to hand over patients at hospital, I wonder if it is acceptable for NHS Highland to plan treatments in a way that increases demand on our much-pressed emergency services.

"The person tells me that he understands that no service users, consultants or indeed representatives from the emergency services were consulted in the drafting of the online working agreement. This arrangement is not suitable for patients or for local services," added Mr Stone.

The man, who has been receiving counselling for a mental health condition and does not wish to be identified, said: "It’s not just pregnant women who travel over 100 miles for medical care but patients who go to New Craigs too. Mental health therapy can’t safely be done in a day trip to New Craigs or online so it is constantly left to the emergency services to pick up the pieces.

"If the patient turns the screen off when in crisis Police Scotland and the Scottish Ambulance Service have to be called and they are not mental health practitioners."

He said an NHS Highland briefing document dated November 2020 and seen by the Groat says patients should be given a choice how they wish to be seen –a Near Me video call, telephone appointment or a one-to-one meeting.

"So why aren't they? "If they’re not it makes a mockery of the ongoing Caithness re-design," added the person who would like the health secretary to travel to Caithness to understand the conditions mothers-to-be and patients who have to go to Inverness for treatment and appointments experience.

A NHS Highland spokeswoman said mental health teams are working at a reduced capacity while their workload has increased significantly due to the pandemic.

"Our clinical teams offer support to patients via NHS Near Me and this has been a great support to many people over the course of the lockdown and beyond. We recognise that personal connection is vitally important between patient and clinician and if a patient expresses a desire for face-to-face contact then we will always try and accommodate this request. In addition, if there is a social or IT issue then face-to-face sessions will be delivered.

"Where possible, we try to arrange clinics in our remote and rural areas to deliver as many face-to-face sessions as possible in one day. We recognise that any delay in accessing face-to-face appointments can be frustrating for some patients and apologise for any inconvenience this may cause."

She added: " If a clinician is completing an online assessment through NearMe and connection is lost or the person has hung up, the clinician would attempt to re-establish contact. If they have significant concerns about a person's welfare that may have emerged from the assessment /conversation, and they have been unable to re-establish contact they would contact the police and request a welfare check."

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