By NEIL RIDDELL
A teenager escaped with minor injuries after his car left the road and slipped 30 metres down an embankment in high winds at Levenwick on Wednesday morning, but had to wait almost two hours to be seen by an ambulance team, prompting renewed calls for Shetland to have a second ambulance restored.
The 17-year-old was driving north on the A970 when his vehicle left the road and careered through a fence at around 7.30am. He had to be cut out of the vehicle by the fire service and was transferred to Gilbert Bain Hospital for treatment.
Shetland’s only ambulance team was stuck on the NorthLink ferry, where they had been treating a crew member and a passenger who had been injured in choppy seas on the way up from Aberdeen. Because of an overnight power cut in Lerwick which caused problems with the passenger walkway and linkspan, there was a delay in allowing passengers to disembark which meant the ambulance team could not get one of the casualties off the vessel straight away.
In the meantime, the injured man in Levenwick had to wait until 9.30am for the ambulance to arrive and take him to hospital in Lerwick. At 8.45am the ambulance service called a GP at Levenwick Health Centre requesting that they attend the incident.
A Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) spokesman said the ambulance crew had been effectively trapped on the ferry. “Because of the nature of the injury to one of the patients they could not just walk off, they had to go off on a stretcher. The ferry had a technical problem with its ramp and they couldn’t take him off until they fixed it – they had to stay with the patient.
“That’s why we couldn’t go to the other one so quickly [but] it was not a life-threatening call, it was what we would classify as an amber call, not one that we would be rushing to in eight minutes, that’s an important distinction. Nonetheless, we were delayed a considerable time [but] we did arrange for a doctor to be on scene with the patient, to ensure his condition was not deteriorating.”
The incident has sparked further calls for Shetland to have its second ambulance restored, following well-publicised incidents, most notably when Sandwick heart attack victim Alan Woodworth was taken to the Gilbert Bain by a hospital porter an hour after his wife had made two 999 calls.
South Shetland councillor Rick Nickerson said that to say the incident was not life-threatening was not really good enough: “What would have happened if it was?” he asked. “They had an incident reported to them at 7.30am which, at the time, they wouldn’t have known what the medical condition of the casualty was. My concern is that they really should’ve sent the ambulance to the Levenwick incident as a precautionary measure – if it had been critical that half an hour travelling time could have been life or death.
“It raises the situation of us not having a second ambulance – in this case we were lucky that the casualty at Levenwick wasn’t life threatening. I fully understand they have to make these [tough] decisions, but if they had a second ambulance they wouldn’t have to possibly, or not as often. The ambulance service is putting pressure on staff here, both in its own service and the medical service, to make these decisions.”
The SAS responded to criticism of its shortcomings towards the tail end of last year by setting up two community “first responder” schemes in Brae and Sandwick, under which volunteers provide medical help before an ambulance arrives. It has also said it is considering the possibility of providing a second ambulance for Shetland in the wake of the high-profile failures to respond quickly enough to emergencies.
The SAS spokesman said this week that the organisation was “aware of the challenge” and was “looking for options to address some of these issues, one of those – not the only it’s important to stress – being the developing of volunteer first responders”.