‘One of these times it will be worse and then it’ll be too late’

A 73-year-old Stockinish man has spoken of his fears that someone will die if the current out of hours care system continues in Harris.

Angus William Macleod, a former merchant navy carpenter, was left suffering in agony at home after repeated calls to NHS-24 during which he was advised to stay at home and contact his local GP the following morning.

But Mr Macleod was suffering from appendicitis and had to be immediately rushed to the Western Isles Hospital the following morning and five weeks on – he remains in hospital.

Mr Macleod, who had been unwell all week leading up to his hospitalisation said he and his sister-in-law were told by NHS-24 operators that ‘it was late’ and to wait until morning.

And Mr Macleod, who subsequently underwent surgery at Western Isles Hospital, says he is lucky to be alive.

“I nearly died because of the current set-up,” he said.

“When I was wheeled into theatre the surgeon said to me ‘it’s bad, it’s very, very bad. This operation could go any way.’

“I told him it was just something which had to be done and afterwards he said that I was a very lucky man and what was left of my appendix was out.”

Now, Mr Macleod says NHS Western Isles have to act before it’s too late.

“They have to have someone closer at hand for emergencies than all those miles away,” he continued. “It has to be someone who knows the Isle of Harris not a stranger from the other side of the world.

“Situations like this have happened before in Harris and this won’t be the last time either. But one of these times it will be worse and they’ll have to do something when it’s too late.”

Mr Macleod, who is due to turn 74 next month, was talking to the Gazette from hospital, some five weeks after initially being admitted.

Reflecting on the chain of events he recalled: “I had been feeling unwell all week long and had gone to the doctor initially on the Tuesday. I hadn’t improved so was back at the doctor again on the Thursday.

“I still felt terrible all Friday and Saturday and on the Sunday night I had to call my brother at 10pm as I was in such terrible pain. He came up with his wife to visit me as I live alone.

“My sister-in-law phoned NHS-24 on my behalf explaining my pain and symptoms and she didn’t get 20-questions, it was more like 120 questions.

“At 11pm they called back and advised me a nurse would come in an hour’s time, which would then be midnight. My brother walked down to the main road to see if he could meet whoever was coming.

“But at midnight the phone rang again and the same lady called again asking how bad the pain was. I told her it was no better, it was very bad but she said it was late and if it gets any worse give us another call.

“I said I didn’t think it could get any worse than it was but they advised me to phone my own doctor in the morning and make an appointment.

“It was a tough night and I don’t know if I slept or if I passed out. I can’t recollect.

“I called the doctor first thing and had an appointment for 11:30am. And by 1:30pm I was in the hospital after the doctor diagnosed it was my appendix.”

In the past Harris operated with an onsite GP doing out of hours provision but when the configuration of practices changed they were no longer able to provide that service in the same way.

The changes led the NHS Western Isles to roll out a system operating in neighbouring Lewis.

In last week’s Stornoway Gazette Dr Angus McKellar, medical director for NHS Western Isles, defended the system which he insisted was the best for the region claiming it is an enviable system. He is convinced the current system is the best one suited for Harris, and also the wider community of Lewis.

“People do look on this system with envy. It works, it’s sustainable, innovative and it is a way to keep people safe, demonstrate quality and it saves lives,” he told the Gazette last week.

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