THE latest technology is to be used to link ill patients in the West Highland village of Kilchoan with health experts hundreds of miles away, within minutes.
An online “Telehealth Booth” is being set up in the village on the Ardnamurchan peninsula – the most westerly point on mainland Britain – where patients will be diagnosed by doctors sitting in an emergency care centre via an internet satellite call.
The scheme, similar to the way Skype operates, is expected to go live within the next few weeks and could be extended.
The initiative follows on the from the success of an Emergency First Responders scheme introduced in the Ardnamurchan community following the recent retiral of two GPs and a district nurse.
Residents lobbied the Scottish Government for a solution, fearing lives were being put at risk with no out-of-hours or emergency cover, with the nearest hospital being in Fort William, at least two hours’ drive away.
The Emergency Responders scheme involves training local people with a healthcare background to respond first to appropriate urgent or emergency calls until an air or road ambulance arrives.
Health secretary Alex Neil yesterday visited Ardnamurchan to hear about the project, which currently has five volunteers signed up.
He said he hoped the Tele-health Booth project, with its direct link to an emergency care centre in Aberdeen or any other major hospital, could be spread out across the country.
Patients who fall ill will go to a private suite in Kilchoan College and be seen immediately via the internet by experts, who will consult the local emergency responder on the next course of action.
Mr Neil said: “I am committed to ensuring that all communities in Scotland receive safe and sustainable health care services.
“This pilot scheme for remote healthcare, which is being led by NHS Highland, will play a vital role in helping to meet the needs of rural communities.
“I would expect this to be suitable for testing in urban as well as remote areas in Scotland.
“In Ardnamurchan, NHS Highland and the Scottish Ambulance Service are working closely to provide safe emergency and urgent healthcare for the local community, and a number of improvements have been made as a result.
“In particular, I was delighted to see the Emergency Responder Service up and running, and providing an invaluable service.”
Rosie Curtis, chairwoman of the West Ardnamurchan Community Council, said: “The First Responder scheme has been working well.
“It is absolutely fantastic. We would be absolutely lost if we did not have it. We believe this could be a model which could be carried out throughout remote rural Scotland.”
Gill McVicar, of NHS Highland, said: “We don’t anticipate a one-size-fits-all solution, but do believe key principles will emerge that can apply across all areas.”