A NHS chief has volunteered to work GP shifts to help deal with a shortage of doctors.
Dr Angus McKellar, medical director at NHS Western Isles, has added his name to a list of medics available to the Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) in the Isle of Harris.
The health chief, who is thought to earn in the region of £130,000 a year, is one of the few trained doctors in the area.
Western Isles NHS board were criticised earlier this year after they paid an agency doctor £19,000 to provide emergency cover for a week – the equivalent of £1m a year.
The board has also been criticised for long waits for treatment experienced by seriously ill islanders. The lack of GP’s in the area has previously resulted in cover being provided from Stornoway on Lewis – up to 60 miles away for some patients.
Dr McKellar said a list of off-duty GPs, paramedics and nurse practitioners had been drawn up to be called on by the Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS).
He said: “I have put my name on that list – as a GP, not medical director. The SAS have also confirmed that all Tarbert-based staff, including technicians as well as paramedics, are willing to be called during off-duty periods.
“I’m delighted with this development. I think it’s a good move.
“I stay in Harris. I’ve got a great desire to see the community content, but I also know what is possible.”
Jinty Morrison, chairwoman of Western Isles Carers, Users and Supporters Network (WICUSN), said there had been a number of “close calls” in the area.
She highlighted a case where 73-year-old, Angus William Macleod, was left for hours in pain suffered from appendicitis.
The former merchant navy carpenter repeatedly called NHS24 during which he was told to call back in the morning.
Mr Macleod said at the time: “I nearly died because of the current set-up.
“They have to have someone closer at hand for emergencies than all those miles away.It has to be someone who knows the Isle of Harris not a stranger from the other side of the world.”
Western Isles MSP Alisdair Allan also welcomed the decision.
He said: “It is something that I have been on to the health board about.
“People have been looking to be reassured that there will be somebody based in north Harris, whether it is a GP or a nurse practitioner.
“I think everybody accepts that this isn’t a service that would be used very often but I’m certainly pleased if the health board are able to offer somebody in this area.
“I think it’s a step forward. I would want to see the detail but it sounds like a step forward.”
A spokeswoman for Western Isles NHS Board said it hoped the move would “allay any concerns persisting in some sections of the Harris community regarding the out-of-hours service”.