The Scottish Ambulance Service has insisted that emergency cover to the outer isles is unaffected by the removal of the Jigsaw helicopter from Sumburgh at the start of April.
But North Isles councilors have said that any withdrawal of service is deeply concerning and the lack of consultation and 48 hours notice given by BP that they were to relocate the helicopter to Aberdeen have been strongly criticized.
The ambulance service moved to assure the public that the same level of emergency cover is there with a statement this morning that said the Sumburgh based coastguard helicopter, ambulance service helicopters – the nearest of which is in Inverness – or “another UK Search and Rescue aircraft” will continue to provide service.
Until 1st April the Jigsaw aircraft was available to assist the ambulance service to undertake urgent non-emergency transfer requests from outer island GP’s to transfer patients to hospital within two or nine hours as “dictated by their clinical condition”.
SIC councilor Gary Cleaver, who has worked hard to sort out air ambulance provision with MSP Tavish Scott over a number of years said that there had been a deplorable lack of consultation before the axing of the Jigsaw.
He added: “The loss of it is very regrettable. The lack of information and the lack of discussion with communities was again regrettable.
“I’m not entirely sure how the same level of service can be provided when one of the lynch-pin aircraft is now no longer in the scenario.”
His North Isles colleague Robert Henderson said that the issue had been discussed at Fetlar Community Council, where it was of particular concern, as Fetlar was two ferry journeys away from the mainland.
He added: “Any reduction in service is regrettable to outlying areas of Shetland, there’s no doubt about it. I’m sure that everyone would like to have as much cover as possible, but if they are giving a reassurance that they are providing us with what’s needed, it’s difficult to argue with that.”
The Jigsaw helicopter contract was due to run out in March 2016, but that date was moved forward by a year with the ambulance service given 48 hours notice on 30th March.
The ambulance service statement says: “Shetland Islanders should be reassured that, the decision to relocate to Aberdeen does not affect our response to emergency calls and in the event of an emergency, patients will continue to be evacuated using either the Scottish Ambulance Service’s own helicopters, the Sumburgh based Coastguard helicopter or another UK Search and Rescue aircraft – whichever is closest when the call is received.
“The Scottish Ambulance Service Air Ambulance Management team continues to work with NHS Shetland and will undertake a joint review of all air ambulance evacuation requests from the outer isles and discussions with air operators to address the situation are continuing. In the meantime non-emergency patients will continue to be transferred either by SAS helicopter, or by chartered use of the inter-islands Islander aircraft through a local agreement with Tingwall based Directflight.”