A solution to the problems surrounding medical evacuations from Unst could soon be thrashed out.
Senior staff from the Scottish Ambulance Service are due to visit Shetland next month to discuss concerns. They will also meet senior SIC councillors to discuss paying for standby cover on the inter-island ferries.
Fears have been aired following the SIC’s ferries review, which could see standby cover on the Bluemull Sound and Yell Sound routes axed. That would mean that all night-time medical evacuations would need to be carried out by helicopter.
Island communities fear they may become too reliant on the air ambulance, which can take some time to mobilise, or the Sumburgh-based coastguard helicopter, which covers a wider area.
The matter was discussed today at a meeting in the Scottish parliament between isles MSP Tavish Scott and SAS chief executive Pauline Howie.
Mr Scott said: “GPs tell me that it is often safer, quicker and best for a patient to be moved by ambulance on the inter-island ferries. Standby cover used to ensure this was possible at night time but the SIC ferries review means there is no guarantee that such cover will remain.
“It is for the public agencies including our council to come up with an agreement that means emergency medical evacuations can happen 24 hours a day. That is why the Scottish Ambulance Service exists. So I was pleased today that the SAS chief executive accepted that the emergency services and the council need to sit around the table and sort this out.
“What I will not accept is endless public sector haggling. Local people need to have confidence that an ambulance will get them to hospital if that unfortunate day or night ever happens. So I want to make sure that an agreement is reached over this vital service as quickly as possible.
“Senior SAS staff are due in Shetland on 3rd September for a public meeting to discuss the air ambulance service. I encouraged them to visit Unst and Yell to meet GPs and local people. But I have also asked the SIC to convene a meeting while the SAS management are in Shetland to discuss paying for standby cover on the inter-island ferries.
“Before the worst of the Shetland winter arrives it is very important that a solution is in place. GPs and the public must have confidence that emergency medical evacuations will take place using the most appropriate form of transport. Most of the time that is a ferry.”
A Scottish Ambulance Service spokesman said: “The air ambulance service will evacuate patients 24/7 in the event of a medical emergency, using either the Super Puma Jigsaw helicopter or MOD and coastguard resources. All patient transfers, whether routine or emergencies, are co-ordinated in discussion with local clinicians and the most appropriate response is agreed in line with the patient’s clinical need.
“Currently, when a patient does not require transport by air ambulance, ferry services are provided. Out of hours this is on an on-call voluntary basis. There is potential for the proposed ferry services measures to significantly impact these arrangements and increase demand for air ambulance missions, and we have highlighted this in our response to the current consultation.
“In the meantime, we will meet with Shetland Islands Council to seek a solution and we will continue to work closely with local clinicians, taking forward measures to improve access to the air ambulance service for outer islands.”