Talking point: Crossing lines
Berwick-upon-Tweed MP Sir Allan Beith has tabled questions in the Commons on the issue of cross-border care, after concerns were expressed at his local Liberal Democrats’ branch about ‘recent changes’ resulting in patients from Scotland not being treated at Berwick Infirmary. Party activist Julie Pörksen, who is hoping to be selected to succeed Sir Alan as the local MP, told the Berwick Advertiser: “It is simply ludicrous that people from just outside Berwick, who use the town for work, shopping and other services, are now being told to travel further for their treatment so they – and the payment for treating them – remains inside Scotland.”
Although Beith and his local party are keen to lay the blame firmly at the feet of an allegedly inward-looking SNP Government, it is not clear exactly where the so-called ‘recent changes’ have come from. All referrals for planned care services clinically appropriate for Borders residents have always been provided by services in the Borders, says NHS Borders.
Their Chief Executive, Calum Campbell, assured me: “There has been no change in access to care for NHS Borders patients – NHS Borders has simply reminded all the GPs in Borders and adjacent Scottish boards/NHS trusts of the range of services provided in NHS Borders for Borders residents and reiterated the long-standing exception criteria that should be used if patients choose to go elsewhere.”
Northumbria NHS Trust assures me they have not issued any new advice, but Berwick Lib Dems say the information came from the Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group, who I have been unable to get hold of.
Given the restructuring of services south of the border, it seems just as likely changes may have grown from the structural differences between a traditional health board in Scotland and a new clinical commissioning model in England. Commissioning requires competitive tendering for services, and it could well be a process alien to NHS Borders staff who previously would have simply referred to the nearest clinic.