Coronavirus: NHS Orkney executive criticised over weekend home travel

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image copyrightNHS Highland
image captionIain Stewart moved from NHS Highland

The new head of NHS Orkney has been criticised for travelling more than 100 miles between accommodation during the coronavirus lockdown.

Iain Stewart has been travelling from Orkney to his Black Isle family home, near Inverness, at weekends.

The Scottish government said his role was "pivotal", and that he was allowed to travel when not working.

Orkney Lib Dem MSP Liam McArthur said Mr Stewart's crossing of the Pentland Firth was "at best, inadvisable".

Mr Stewart, who was previously chief executive at NHS Highland, took on an executive role at NHS Orkney earlier this year ahead of becoming chief executive, after the phased retirement of Gerry O'Brien.

He has himself been underlining the need for people to stay at home and not to make any unnecessary journeys.

Mr Stewart has described his travel arrangements as "essential".

The Scottish government said in a statement: "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 travel to and from their family or principal home, when not working."

'Could not function'

The statement said the health board had looked into the issue and was satisfied that Mr Stewart had "acted reasonably and within the terms of the national guidance".

NHS Orkney chairwoman Meghan McEwen 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.

"It is standard practice that the terms and conditions of any staff member's contract may include temporary relocation or rental packages, especially if there is an expected commute to an island."

MSP Mr 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".

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