Highland cancer sufferers forced to travel hundreds of miles after NHS bosses scrapped visits from a consultant have been told not to use buses or trains because of the risk of infection.

One patient hit out at the "utterly absurd" situation.

He said he now had little choice but to travel 200 miles to Glasgow by public transport for treatment with a haematologist at the same time as being told to avoid public transport.

The man, who asked not to be named, said the new service was the “diametric opposite of medical good practice.”

Three local MSPs have blasted the arrangement facing their constituents.

Until recently, the care of blood cancer patients in Argyll and Bute had been delivered at Oban's Lorn and Islands hospital by a monthly-visiting consultant haematologist from NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (NHSGGC).

However, the service has now been withdrawn by the Glasgow health board.

In a recent exchange of letters, seen by The Herald, they have defended the decision, despite fierce opposition from Argyll and Bute Health and Social Care Partnership (ABHSCP). 

At the end of last year, the SNP’s Kate Forbes, Labour’s Dame Jackie Baillie, and Conservative Donald Cameron wrote to the NHSGGC and NHS Highland, which runs Oban’s Lorn and Islands hospital, urging them to restore the old model.

They warned that the need to travel to Glasgow for outpatient face-to-face clinics was putting “patients at an unnecessary risk."

On behalf of NHS Highland, Fiona Davies, chief officer of ABHSCP said they had asked NHSGGC to “reconsider their decision knowing the impact this would have locally.”

They also suggested a “number of possible solutions” including “a move to a hybrid model that would maintain consultant in-person visits to Lorn and Islands but on a reduced scale.”

However, they said that “despite these efforts” the Glasgow health board’s management “made it clear that they saw no alternative but to cease providing clinical staff to support outpatient clinics in Oban.”

In their response, NHSGGC said the old model meant patients in Argyll and Bute “did not benefit from sub-specialist input and access to specialist nurse support in the same way as” patients in Glasgow.

A review “concluded that in order to provide equitable access to specialist services and make sure the service was sustainable for the future, the redesigned model would appoint patients into sub-specialist NHSGGC clinics.”

Despite ABHSCP’s criticism of the decision, the letter, from Jane Grant, the Chief Executive of the health board, said a meeting between the two boards earlier this month “about the progress of the revised clinical service” had been “positive.”

“I can’t imagine that any patient would make positive comments," one patient said. "Plus, based on ABHSCP’s recent reply to the joint letter, in which for the first time they seem to admit that the new arrangement is less than satisfactory, I cannot see how NHSGGC could write here that the meeting was positive, implying satisfaction from all parties.”

He said his most recent meeting with a consultant cost him around £400 in transport and overnight accommodation. He says he was stunned when the consultant handed him a leaflet warning him not to travel by public transport.

Donald Cameron told The Herald: “The situation for blood cancer patients across Argyll and Bute is utterly absurd.

“They will not take any comfort from the health board response whatsoever.

“People living in rural Scotland should not have to endure a second-class health service, but that’s exactly what will happen unless these services are restored.”

Kate Forbes said the decision by the health board was "concerning."

“I am always keen that healthcare services are delivered as locally as possible, particularly as in this instance it would require patients with very serious conditions to travel to Glasgow.

Dame Jackie, who is also Labour’s health spokesperson, said: “We are one NHS across Scotland, and the objective should be for health boards to collaborate to achieve the best outcome for patients, who are the priority in this debate.

“It is important that a solution is found to assist this group of high-risk and vulnerable individuals.

“Patients simply cannot be expected to travel to Glasgow and foot the bill to the tune of £400 to ensure they get the treatment they require.”

A spokesperson for NHSGGC said: "NHSGGC delivers the clinical Haematology service for Argyll and Bute patients and following a review of the service delivery model, this is now through a combination of in-person appointments at the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer centre, and virtual follow-up appointments.

"This approach ensures patients have access to specialist treatment which was not available locally.  

Every effort is taken to minimise the requirement for patients to travel for their consultations.

"Patients are assessed on an individual basis and anyone severely immunocompromised would be advised accordingly, including transport arrangements.

"Day care treatment remains at Lorne and Island Hospital, where NHSGGC has excellent links with the highly experienced team, as we continue to deliver the best care possible for our patients together. 

"In more complex cases, patients may be required to attend NHSGGC for their treatment. 

"We continue to work closely with the local management team who are content that no changes are required at this time. The new model remains under close review to ensure the patients are supported under the arrangement."