By ROSALIND GRIFFITHS
A group of islanders hope to provide three extra ambulances for Shetland in a bid to improve cover.
They plan to set up a private service with ambulances based in the north, south and west Mainland.
The service, to be known as Shetland Independent Ambulance Service (SIAS), will be community-run, staffed by volunteers and available 24 hours a day.
Members of SIAS say that the Mainland’s ambulance provision is inadequate, and will remain so even with the proposed second ambulance to be based in Brae manned by retained staff.
They also say they are “disillusioned” with the way the First Responders scheme, going live in the north Mainland this week, is being managed.
SIAS chairman Kevin Ward, from Mossbank, said the group had applied for charitable status and had approached the national lottery and businesses, including BP, for funding. The venture would incur start-up costs of around £175,000, which would cover the cost of buying and equipping three second-hand ambulances and staff training. Thereafter it would have annual running costs of around £40,000.
One of the SIAS members is Shetlander Chris Readings, who was formerly head of a search and rescue charity in north-east England. He resigned after being accused of visiting an accident scene in London on a paramedic-style motorcycle.
A national newspaper said Mr Readings rode his Honda, which was fitted with flashing blue lights, to the nail bomb blast at The Admiral Duncan pub, in Soho, in April 1999.
He later confirmed he had been at the bomb site, but only because he was nearby at the time, and had stepped back when the emergency services arrived.
Mr Readings said the Shetland venture already had the support of 11 people in the Delting area, but to be successful would require around a dozen volunteers from each of the various communities where the ambulances were to be based – provisionally Sumburgh, Brae or Mossbank and Bixter.
He said: “We’re doing this to provide an additional service to the community. We believe we can get this off the ground in a short space of time if the Shetland public get behind it. But it can’t be achieved without the public.”
Mr Readings said that training, which would be done locally, was “easily attainable”, and would be kept topped up weekly. Instead of an 11-week block, which few employers would let their staff go to, training up to Emergency Medical Technician standard could be done in five-day sessions, assuming trainees had some prior first aid knowledge. It would be accredited by the Institute of Rural Healthcare and Institute of Surgeons, Edinburgh, and built up module by module.
Driver training to emergency services driver level would also be done here in two five-day courses.
Mr Ward, the health and safety manager of a local building firm, said: “We’re very passionate and positive about this.”
His partner and fellow volunteer Rosemary “JJ” Henry said: “It is achievable and can only be of benefit. The service will be run by the community for the community.”
The proposed service will offer a faster response to an emergency than would be possible by the present A&E ambulance based in Lerwick. But SIAS stressed that they would complement and not compete with the existing ambulance provision, whose staff Mr Readings said were doing a “fantastic job”.
However, the existing service could not hope in a major emergency. “We have three airports as well as Sullom Voe,” Mr Readings said. “ I can’t see how the ambulance service could cope with a major incident.”
SIAS differs from the recently-started First Responders scheme in that trained personnel will go to the scene of an emergency and be able to treat and, if necessary, transport the casualty. First Responders are only allowed to manage a patient, not to treat or move them. Their function is to provide help in the vital first minutes before an ambulance arrives, and manage life-threatening emergencies such as heart attacks, strokes and asthma attacks. They are not allowed to go to road accidents, maternity cases or potentially violent domestic incidents.
SIAS will have a wider capability, being able to treat virtually any trauma as well as take patients to hospital. They feel this could be especially useful in the case of island patients – the SIAS ambulance could meet the casualty off the ferry and transfer them to hospital, freeing up the island’s medical staff to return to their jobs.
It is also envisaged that the fully insured private ambulances could obtain contracts for a patient transport service from NHS Shetland, taking people to and from hospital. Other sources of income could come from providing an ambulance presence at community events, such as horse shows.
The SIAS service will be contacted by an 0800 phone number instead of 999, and the call will be answered by a local person with local knowledge.
Mr Readings said this would not be confusing for patients as they are routinely told to dial another number (such as NHS 24) when calling their GP surgery out of hours. He also pointed out that private ambulance services are nothing new, having existed in England for decades.
SIAS representatives have already met members of NHS Shetland who are interested in their proposals, as well as MSP Tavish Scott.
Director of clinical services Simon Bokor-Ingram confirmed that a multi-disciplinary team would have to look at the proposals in more detail before he could comment.
MSP Tavish Scott said he understood the level of concern about the ambulance provision but thought having two numbers to call would cause confusion.
He said: “I have grave reservations about a competing ambulance service in Shetland. I don’t see how that can work and have said so to those behind this proposal.
“I completely understand the desire to see better response times for ambulance cover. But we must hold the Scottish Ambulance Service to their new second ambulance proposals and make these work.
“I am very concerned to hear from local paramedic staff that they were not consulted by the SAS management on the overtime requirements placed on them. That needs to be resolved very quickly.
“But above all, local people need the certainty of one blue light 999 emergency service and one telephone number in emergencies.”
Volunteer medics scheme gets under way in the north
The North Mainland group of First Responders, set up to complement the existing ambulance service, has gone live this week.
Volunteer medics were recruited to the scheme in January and 10 people passed their training.
The responders will be dispatched by the ambulance service at the same time as the ambulance when a 999 call is received. They have been provided with a Ford Focus van equipped with oxygen and defibrillator, and each responder has workwear, including a high-visibility jacket.
They are trained to manage, but not treat, a casaulty and are not allowed to transport them. However, their work is considered an important addition to the emergency services as they can start CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) in the vital first minutes before the ambulance arrives.
Scottish Ambulance Service community resuscitation officer Alan Knox confirmed that the scheme was going live after a series of delays due to problems with pagers and mobile phones, although there had been no call-outs as yet.
He said: “They [the First Responders] are doing really well. More are being trained for the north.”
A training scheme for the South Mainland was now being worked out, Mr Knox added.