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coronavirus

Government backs NHSO chief’s Highland commute

Iain Stewart, NHS Orkney chief executive designate.

The Scottish Government has supported a decision by NHS Orkney’s new chief executive to commute to his home in the Highlands, during the coronavirus lockdown.

Iain Stewart, who is one of those leading the charge in Orkney’s fight against the virus, and encourages residents to avoid nonessential travel, told The Orcadian on Monday that he is still travelling to his home on the Scottish mainland when he can.

Though Orkney MSP Liam McArthur has described this behaviour as “at best, inadvisable”, the chief executive designate has defended his actions, as has NHS Orkney’s board chairwoman Meghan McEwan.

A Scottish Government statement said: “The role of the chief executive of NHS Orkney is pivotal to the safe and effective delivery of healthcare services on the island.

“While he is working, the chief executive stays in accommodation provided by NHS Orkney – this is not treated as a first or second home for the purposes of the current travel restrictions. Staff can therefore to travel to and from their family or principal home, when not working.

“The chair, Meghan McEwen has looked into the issue, and is satisfied that Iain Stewart has acted reasonably and within the terms of the national guidance.”

Also responding, NHSO board chairwoman, Meghan McEwan said: “Being an island health board, we simply could not function without movement of staff on and off the island. This applies to all of our staff groups right across the system of health and social care.

“Our staff are kept fully up to date with latest guidance, including steps to take if they have any of the symptoms of COVID-19,  and how to get tested.”

This week’s newspaper reports the full exchange over the issue at an official NHSO press briefing on Monday.

The question over Mr Stewart’s actions was first raised by a concerned member of the public who approached the press last week, and was put to Mr Stewart at the briefing.

Since then, The Orcadian has made several approaches to Mr Stewart and NHS Orkney to answer further questions.

The official NHSO statement, which appears above, was released on Tuesday evening, after we went to press.

As yet, there has been no direct response from Mr Stewart to further questions raised, including claims that he may have received visitors travelling from south to his accommodation in Orkney during the lockdown.

Responding to questions relating to any travel and accommodation expenses accrued by Mr Stewart during to lockdown, the health authority advised that a Freedom of Information Request (FO) should be placed to this effect.

Speaking this week, Orkney MSP Liam McArthur said: “In the current climate, with the message from the First Minister very much to ‘stay home’ and travel only when and where essential, the decision by NHS Orkney’s chief executive designate to make these journeys on a weekly basis seems, at best, inadvisable.

“At a time when people in Orkney, as elsewhere, are being asked to make sacrifices in continuing to comply with the restrictions, it is important that those leading the fight against COVID-19 set an example.”

See this week’s The Orcadian for more on this story.

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