By ROSALIND GRIFFITHS
A second ambulance for Shetland is a possibility being considered by service chiefs who visited the isles for talks with NHS Shetland on Monday.
Acting chief executive of the Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) Pauline Howie said she was “absolutely committed” to making in improvements in remote and rural emergency cover and was “looking at everything” to achieve this.
Her visit came immediately prior to two meetings to set up community First Responder schemes, under which volunteers provide medical help before an ambulance arrives, and in the wake of cases when the single ambulance for the Mainland was unable to respond quickly enough to emergencies.
Ms Howie said: “We are looking at a whole range of options in the whole of Shetland. This will range from local community First Re-sponder schemes up to a double-crewed, fully equipped ambulance and everything in between.
“The key message is that we want action, but sustainable action. A working group will report to the clinical governance committee in March and to the [NHS Shetland] board meeting in May.”
Responding to the fact that Shetland’s ambulance cannot be in two places at once, Ms Howie said that demand for ambulances everywhere was increasing. In Shetland, she said, her key concern was that call-outs had soared by 18 per cent since last year. This rising demand could possibly be met by looking “outwith the box” and involving other medical services such as NHS Shetland and NHS 24.
She acknowleged that First Responder schemes would only be “part of the solution”.
Chief executive of NHS Shetland Sandra Laurenson described the meeting with Ms Howie as “important” and said she was very pleased a second ambulance had not been ruled out. She said NHS Shetland was working closely with the ambulance service: “I believe our action plan will be productive.”
The call for a second ambulance has been taken up by MSP Tavish Scott in the wake of a high profile case in which Sandwick heart attack victim Alan Woodworth was taken to the Gilbert Bain by a hospital porter an hour after his wife made two 999 calls. Mr Scott had a brief meeting with Ms Howie on Monday and said: “I welcome the SAS working with NHS Shetland to come up with proposals to improve the blue light service.
“The test for me will be that the proposal would be for an extra ambulance with accompanying staff to make sure the service the islands need is available.
“The exercise they’re working on has to come up with the goods. I recognise that the chief executive coming up to Shetland now has a better understanding of the degree of public concern that exists in Shetland and we need to make sure the ambulance service acts on that.”
The general feeling among ambulance personnel is that a second ambulance for the Mainland would be very welcome as a way of improving the service.
They would also like to see the elimination of the “on call” system which operates out of hours, whereby staff answer a call from their homes and response times are therefore longer, and work entirely from the ambulance station.
Around 30 people turned up to each of the meetings held in Brae and Sandwick this week to recruit to the community First Responder schemes, with many signing up to join.
The aim is to create networks of volunteer medics in the north and south of the Mainland. The volunteers will answer a 999 call swiftly and start management of a patient in the “therapeutic vacuum” that exists while waiting for the ambulance.
SAS community resuscitation officer Alan Knox conveyed his enthusiasm for the initiative, which currently has 35 schemes running in the north of Scotland.
Mr Knox explained that the responders would be dispatched by the ambulance service at the same time as the ambulance. They would be fully trained with rigorous examinations and frequent refresher courses, and equipped with the latest medical gear which can fit into a rucksack. Their work could be particularly useful in the case of heart attacks and a team would be needed to manage the situation as one person could not do it alone.
Responders would be expected to start early CPR (cardio-pulmonary resuscitation) and defibrillation, which can be done with a small state of the art machine that issues spoken instructions to the person using it. Mr Knox said: “All you do is press the button and follow the instructions.” The machine then uses smart technology to deliver a measured dose of electrical energy.
All training is signed off by the SAS and responders are in constant touch with the service when they are called out.
The schemes will be organised within each community with volunteers giving as much or as little of their time as they wish. If it transpires that there is a particularly high incidence of any condition (asthma, for instance) in an area, trainees’ skills could at a later date be developed to deal with this.
Mr Knox said he had been very encouraged by the meetings to recruit volunteers and was delighted to be able to explain the concept of the scheme. Sixteen people in the north and six in the south have so far come forward, with more application forms still to come in.
He said: “It’s definitely going ahead. The response [to the meetings] was very positive and people are realising we want to work with the community, to put links in with the potential to save people’s lives.”
He stressed that responder schemes would enhance the ambulance service and having the schemes in place does not mean Shetland will never get a second ambulance.