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IT problems? Go on holiday!

Have you ever been faced with a long list of docman letters or electronic results at the end of a long day, and had your mind wander to thinking what life would be like sitting on a beach in the tropics away from such pressures?

Perhaps, just perhaps, you could combine the two.

See, connectivity – whether by mobile phone signal or broadband internet – remains a significant issue for many of us in rural Scotland. In fact large parts of the UK remain poorly covered… a result of market forces defining the intentions of connectivity providers to focus on the areas of highest population density. It’s a numbers game, and if I were a shareholder I would want them to do the same – profits tend to be maximised where the density of revenue is highest. This is why the first to see 5G will be those with 4G, not those with no Gs at all.

Germany bucked the trend a few years ago, and released the 4G licenses for rural areas first, resulting in a more equitable distribution of connectivity across the country. In the UK, the government opted not to follow suit, so the ‘forgotten 5%’ continues. Roll out is often quoted as 90% or 95% of the population, so those unlucky 5-10% are continually left to pull the strings ever tighter between cups, and the digital divide widens.

But now for some good news. Remote access has been rolled out in our health board with refreshing effectiveness, support and dedication to making it work. The result is that I can access our GP system from anywhere with a half-decent connection. And apparently there are convincing efforts to see this rolled out across Scotland.

Before folk get the idea that I’m chilling out on beaches, cocktail in one hand and docman-ing mouse in the other, it’s not, thankfully, like that. However having easy access to our GP systems has resulted in a sea-change of flexibiilty on where we can complete the screen work. For example, it means that at 6pm, when hunger/club meetings/desire to escape occurs, I have the option to log out, pack up and go – and come back to it later in the evening if that suits my schedule better. 

I’m not advocating that we should all be taking work home. But for some, it works. The flexibility is what gives a degree of control back to the day. Reviewing fungal toenail culture results whilst in your pyjamas is at last possible, if you like that sort of thing.

However, the main thing it has highlighted, is just how woefully behind we are in Scotland – and indeed the UK – for connectivity. Over the last year I have been lucky to travel widely for work and leisure. And releasing the inner-geek that I sometimes admit to, it has allowed me to discover that, for example, at 35,000 feet above rural Norway, I have better access to our GP system than I do in Brodick, one of our surgery sites 3 miles up the road from our server.

Adding to the list, Dubai, Cairns, Adelaide, Toronto, Reykjavik, Tromso and Sydney all allow faster access too. Check that: 15,000 kilometres away (and that was rural Australia) I get a better connection to EMIS than I do 5 kilometres up the road in our Brodick surgery.

All this illustrates – with some surprising gravity – that despite the issue of connectivity being highlighted as far back as 1912 by Sir John Dewar, we continue to see whitewashing over the fact that connectivity needs a significant boost in rural Scotland. Realistic medicine, cluster working, being ‘collaborative leaders in partnership’ – and fundamentally, the success of Scotland’s policy to integrate health and social care – will all depend pivotally on access to realistic connectivity.

Then again, if that requires more time in exotic places (and therefore tax deductible*?!) then perhaps we should embrace remote access for all the opportunities it offers. I hear that the Seychelles offers excellent broadband.

*This is not professional tax advice!

David Hogg is a GP on the Isle of Arran and Chair of the Rural GP Association of Scotland. He writes in a personal capacity. You can follow him on Twitter @davidrhogg