NHS Borders must modernise, says outgoing health boss

New technology should be deployed to make it easier for the public to access healthcare in the Scottish Borders..

New technology should be deployed to make it easier for the public to access healthcare in the Scottish Borders..

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The region’s outgoing medical director has warned that, without a radical overhaul, health services in the Borders were facing a “perfect storm”.

Dr Sheena MacDonald said this was mainly down to a combination of severe financial constraints on NHS Borders and an ageing population, living longer with chronic conditions.

We are not getting it right and things must change

Dr Sheena MacDonald

And she admitted: “In those circumstances we have to acknowledge that we are not getting it right and things must change if we are to reach calmer waters.”

Addressing the health board’s annual 2015 review meeting in the Chaplaincy Centre of the BGH, Dr MacDonald, who is retiring at the end of this year, invoked Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity – “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.

To stress the need for a sea change in culture and practices, she cited the plight of a fictitious family living on welfare benefits in one of the region’s most deprived areas with a range of lifestyle-related medical and psychological ailments.

Dr MacDonald described how each family member could currently be shunted from 
one doctor and specialism to another, involving numerous and lengthy waits for treatment, when a more holistic approach, informed by a wider engagement with the whole family 
and involving the voluntary sector, would better serve their needs.

Dr MacDonald said new technology, including video calling services like FaceTime and Skype and other tailored apps, should be deployed to make it easier for the public to access healthcare.

“We need your help in getting from the one scenario to the other and the public has a huge role to play in keeping itself healthy,” she told the audience.

Earlier, health board chairman John Raine welcomed new chief executive Jane Davidson to her first annual review meeting at the helm and praised her exhortation to all staff to “walk in the shoes of the patient at all times”.

The health impact in the region of welfare benefit cuts was raised during a question and answer session with Dr Tim Paterson, director of public health, acknowledging that this was “an important issue”.

“We know there are deprived communities in the Borders where smoking rates are higher and life expectancy is lower and we work with 
Scottish Borders Council to make sure people get the benefits they need,” said Dr Paterson.

“Although it is the politicians who make these decisions, I feel we could do more to record and quantify the impact of income poverty on public health and that is certainly something I will pursue.”

Assurances were given to another questioner that access to community physiotherapy services would be improved.

“We have huge numbers of people waiting beyond the target of nine weeks after referral and this is very much our Achilles heel,” admitted Mr Raine.

However, he commended the ongoing conversation in which NHS Borders was asking communities: “What can we do together to improve services?” and “How can we communicate and work more effectively with patients, families, carers and our communities?”

To have your say before November, email public.involvement@borders.scot.nhs.uk