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Caithness News Bulletins October 2004

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MSP Rob Gibson Sounds The Alarm For Air Ambulances
"Ambulances must be based in Northern and Western isles"

Anger over air ambulance centre plan - Evening Telepgraph

'The Scottish Executive must consider gale force weather conditions, basing air ambulance planes on islands, increasing cover and treating Caithness as an island for air ambulance purposes,' said Rob Gibson SNP MSP for Highlands and Islands. ' I am increasingly alarmed that local opinion is being ignored in favour of cost cutting measures,' he continued.

'In light of proposed changes to the air ambulance services for remote and rural areas I have lodged a raft of questions to new Health Minister Andy Kerr to find out how the service would function should preferred bidder Gama Aviation be awarded the contract.'

The Scottish Ambulance Service announced last month that as of January Loganair would no longer be given the contract to provide the air ambulance service to the Highlands and Islands which consist of: 1 fixed-wing air ambulances in each Glasgow, Orkney and Shetland and two helicopters in Glasgow and Inverness. 'We have evidence of far greater coverage in areas of North Norway, why not here', said Rob Gibson.

' If Gama secures the new contract after the consultation, it will operate two helicopters from Glasgow and Inverness, two new fixed-wing aircraft from Glasgow and Aberdeen, and a medically equipped helicopter in Shetland. This move was greeted with scepticism from rural communities throughout the region, and recent attempts by the SAS to reassure Shetlanders has done little to convince them that Gama can provide fully comprehensive air service.

Mr Gibson understands their concerns.... 'The people of the North are not convinced that this change is for the best and I agree with them.''

' It seems ludicrous to take away vital medical air services from Orkney and Shetland and it is even more galling to learn that the primary function for the Shetland helicopter is search and rescue, and not the transport of patients. That in effect means that there is only half a helicopter serving Shetland. Into the bargain Caithness should be treated as an island because of the distances involved to specialist hospitals.'

Mr Gibson 's written questions (see editors notes for full list) cover a wide range of topics, from how often the air ambulances were stopped from flying due to bad weather to what the actual cost of the air ambulance service is to each region in the Highlands and Islands.

Rob Gibson concluded... 'These questions are an attempt to find out what the implications are for communities right across the Highlands and Islands should the contract be awarded to Gama Aviation. I want to know what the reality will be for people in the remote mainland and island groups .''

Rob Gibson's Questions
Provide figures for each year from September 2000 to September 2004 for the number of days when wind speeds rose above 39 miles an hour (gale force) in a) Lerwick b) Kirkwall c) Wick d) Stornoway e) Barra f) Islay g) Inverness h) Glasgow.

Specify how many days per year in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004 that air ambulances in the Highlands, Orkney, Shetland, and the Western Isles areas were unable to fly as a result of poor weather conditions.

How many journeys were undertaken by air ambulances to a) Inverness b) Aberdeen in the years 2000-2004 from the Highlands, Orkney, Shetland and Western Isles areas, broken down by region and year.

What provision has been made under the proposed new air ambulance system for transporting accompanying medical teams back to their respective areas of departure.

What was the total budget for air ambulance services covering the Highlands, Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles for years 2000-2004, broken down by region and year.

What is the projected budget for air ambulance services covering the Highlands, Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles areas for 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008.

What are the actual costs for air ambulance services to Highlands, Orkney, Shetland and Western Isles areas in the years 2000-2004, broken down by region and year.

If the Scottish Executive has written off the annual debt of the Scottish Ambulance Service.
A list of air ambulance journeys from within Highland Council by areas for the years 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004.

How many days in the year Sumburgh, Kirkwall, Wick, Stornoway, Benbecula, Barra, Inverness, Aberdeen and Glasgow airports were closed by fog in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 and so far in 2004.