A video conferencing programme is transforming healthcare in the Outer Hebrides by giving patients access to consultants across the world as well as slashing waiting times, travel costs and the trust's carbon footprint.

The Attend Anywhere software allows the remote treatment of patients in the Western Isles requiring care, procedures and appointments on the mainland who would otherwise face days of waiting and travelling.

In addition to offering patient benefits, Attend Anywhere has helped the health board to reduce carbon emissions and the costs associated with patient travel.

In the four months between January and April 2019, 80% of haematology patients were seen via video saving around 6.7 tonnes of carbon emissions and 23,000 health miles and £40,000 in patients travel costs.

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Around 10 clinics in NHS Western Isles makes use of the innovative programme including dermatology, respiratory, rheumatology and haematology.

Iain Trayner, technology enabled care manager with NHS Western Isles, said: "Because we are a small island health board, these are people we would normally send to the mainland which costs a lot of money and it's extremely inconvenient for patients. Less travel means less environmental impact and carbon savings too."

Since the programme, pioneered in Australia, was introduced nearly three years ago by NHS24 hundreds of patients have been able to stay at home for assessment rather than travel to appointments at the Western Isles Hospital in Stornoway or Inverness and Glasgow.

The high-definition, easy to use video conferencing programme is completely secure can be used on any device.

Patients requiring hand surgery have even been assessed remotely before having to attend mainland hospitals for operations.

Elizabeth Fowler, technology enabled care project officer, cited the example of a crofter in his 80s who previously had to leave his home at 3am in the morning, drive for two hours and then catch a flight to Inverness to receive care.

Now he is able to be seen by video link in Stornoway.

"He drives to Stornoway in the morning, buys all his crofting supplies, does his weekly shop and is back home by lunchtime," said Ms Fowler.

"He thinks it is absolutely amazing. It makes a massive difference to people not having to spend their whole day waiting for a plane, waiting for a bus, waiting for a taxi and then waiting for a consultant."

Another experience that reinforced the importance of the technology was an encounter with an oncology patient's wife who was having to travel to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness.

"She stopped me and said, 'I can't tell you what a difference this has made to us. We know his cancer will come back but we feel we are better equipped to deal with it knowing that we are not going to be making a weekly trip to Raigmore'," said Ms Fowler.

Ms Fowler said that previous video conferencing technology was less flexible and needed to be done through healthcare premises.

Patients have embraced the introduction of video consultations for healthcare.

Mr Trayner said: "It shows that we care. It never has been about just saving money we wanted to improve the patient's experience through providing patient-centred pathways of care."

Attend Anywhere has helped to reduce waiting times for respiratory patients by half within NHS Western Isles.

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As well as travelling to the Western Isles, a respiratory consultant who lives in the South of England conducts regular video consultations with patients by connecting diagnostic devices to the hardware.

"He has a remote stethoscope so he can listen to the patient's chest," added Ms Fowler. "He also has a virtual private network to our system so he can use our x-rays, and clinic results just as if he is in the room with the patient."

The potential for connecting patients and medical professionals globally is unlimited. Only weeks ago, the first online orthopaedic clinic was held with a consultant from Hungary.

Ms Fowler said that opportunities for flexible staffing arrangements created by Attend Anywhere helped to address the recruitment challenges faced by NHS Western Isles.

"It has completely changed the way we deliver services," she said. "We are very remote and rural. We have limited resources, money, staff and consultant services. It has made us confident that we can effectively deliver services to our increasing elderly population."