HC Deb 25 November 1958 vol 596 cc197-8
11. Mr. Malcolm MacMillan

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether, in view of the financial burden upon National Health Service patients from the Western Isles having to pay the cost of travel to distant centres for treatment, as well as the cost of subsistence while away from home, he will now take steps to reimburse them in whole or part.

Mr. Maclay

No, Sir. I can see no prospect of going beyond the present arrangement under which a patient who is unable to pay his fare to hospital may have it refunded in whole or in part.

Mr. MacMillan

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is dismay in this area because many people have to travel long distances at their own expense and have to make repeated journeys to the mainland and Stornoway and other places for treatment? These people have to bear an extremely heavy burden. Can the right hon. Gentleman not give some consideration to the fact that they are living in areas which are quite different from ordinary areas, such as cities, where bus and other fares are a much smaller burden?

Mr. Maclay

I am aware of the problem. The hon. Member realises, of course, that it is not only the Outer Isles which are affected by this problem. I am ready and anxious to consider sympathetically any proposals for improving the service in the Highlands and Islands and for bringing it nearer to the patients. We are working on that all the time.

Mr. John MacLeod

Is my right hon. Friend aware that people in this area are not getting the service to which they are entitled owing to the heavy extra financial burden put upon them? Cannot he look at this problem again very carefully, because I feel that he will agree that something must be done?

Mr. Maclay

I repeat, the problem is under continuous study, but I am not satisfied that the way to correct it is by arranging for the payment of fares, which would have very wide repercussions all over the country.

Mr. Woodburn

Can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that as a result of the present regulations no patients are denied treatment which they ought to be having?

Mr. Maclay

I have received no direct evidence in this direction.