Work on research about the impact on transport and access to healthcare services on the Isle of Skye is to start next week as part of NHS Highland’s Skye, Lochalsh and South West Ross redesign process.

Dr Richard Mounce and Dr Steve Wright, both research fellows at the Centre for Transport Research at the University of Aberdeen, will be travelling to Skye to begin their research on Monday 3rd April 2017.

This work is a key requirement of the redesign process. In particular, it will look at the impact (positive or negative) of any changes to healthcare services the board provides in the area.

The Aberdeen team will assess this impact by reviewing activity data, questionnaires from local transport providers and hospital patient surveys.

The field work will involve Dr Mounce and Dr Wright meeting various representatives from local community transport providers, NHS Highland staff, and conducting in-patient and visitor surveys.

Dr Mounce said: “We have already done some of the ground work for the project to take place, with help from NHS Highland. Questionnaires have been distributed to local transport operators on Skye in order to gather information about what transport options are available to people who need to access the Portree and Broadford hospitals. In-patient surveys have also recently been initiated to gather information about how in-patients and their visitors access the hospitals.

After the week-long field work, the assessment is to be completed by the end of May and then presented to NHS Highland as well as the Transport and Access Group chaired by Councillor Hamish Fraser.

Councillor Hamish Fraser welcomed the commissioning of this research.

He said: “I hope the outcome will potentially enhance the transport services available presently. The geography of the Skye, Lochalsh and Wester Ross catchment area, makes the area difficult to serve, particularly within the limits of the present public transport provision at all levels.

“The work of the Transport and Access Group has been difficult to date and this professionally led research will hopefully find a way round those difficulties and allow the redesign of Health and Social Care services to move on to provide a sustainable service for the locality for many years to come.”

Dr Mounce and Dr Wright have considerable experience in this field and have already conducted another similar study for NHS Highland on its Badenoch and Strathspey Community Transport redesign.

Dr Mounce joined the Centre for Transport Research over three years ago to work with Steve Wright on the FITS (Flexible Integrated Transport Services) project, designing a system to improve efficiency in rural transport.

Dr Mounce is currently working on the ESPRIT (EaSily distributed Personal Rapid transIT) project, which is funded though the EU’s Horizon 2020 funding programme. The ESPRIT project is designing a one-way car sharing vehicle and system, and has a consortium of both industrial and academic partners from the UK, France, Germany and Italy.

He said: “We will be doing an assessment of the implications of changes to health provision on transport to health. In particular, we will be focusing on the impacts of moving all in-patient care to Broadford such as how people in the north of Skye who don’t have a car will access the hospital in Broadford.

“This will be an issue for both inpatients and visitors. In fact, visitors will make up a greater number of the trips.

“Transport to health is a big issue in rural areas like the Isle of Skye because the public transport services are not as good as in urban areas.

“Therefore, it is more important to have proper services in place to facilitate the required access for visitors, not just for in-patients. There is an assumption that visitors will travel by private car. One of the key issues, therefore, is how these changes might affect someone without access to a private car and whether there are barriers to some people accessing health care.”

Dr Mounce added: “We will make use of software that was developed during the FITS project to analyse the data, especially for visualisation purposes as it can
display the operational boundaries of transport services.

“We will then collate all the information from the analysis, the questionnaires and the surveys and perform the assessment.

“As well as the assessment, we will also make recommendations about how to accommodate any changes to healthcare access that we have identified. For instance, such as making changes to current transport services or recommending that new services be introduced.”