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NHS Highland says no new concerns have been raised by either members of staff or the public as a result of the long-running problems with mobile phone provider EE on Ardnamurchan.
It is nearly three months since problems first began and yet EE customers on Ardnamurchan are still no closer to getting coverage restored.
The disruption to EE’s service on the peninsula, believed to affect an area stretching from Glenuig to Strontian, began in early July and it is understood that a new radio link is now required to be fitted to the problem mast.
This week EE told the Lochaber Times it was working to get service restored to its customers in the area as soon as possible.
But Lochaber MSP Kate Forbes has called on EE to get its act together, describing the situation as ‘totally unacceptable’.
The MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch told us there is still no date for when the problem will be fixed.
Asked if EE’s woes had implications for any medical staff on call for out-of-hours service or for lone health care workers on Ardnamurchan, an NHS Highland spokesperson told the Lochaber Times this week: ‘There have been no new concerns raised by staff or the public.
‘Contingency measures have always been in place to address any connectivity limitations which includes lone working policies and landline messaging services.
‘However, we have been in discussions with Kate Forbes MSP who is championing the need to improve mobile connectivity in the area.
‘It should be also noted that this wider need for improved connectivity was clearly voiced by the community directly to the Scottish Government’s planning officer at the recent Fort William 2040 event.’
Asked what these ‘contingency measures’ comprised, the spokesperson added: ‘In this instance, it’s the Lone Working Policy, alternative phone company usage and landline messaging services. There is also a single point of contact number for the public to contact us in Fort William.’
For her part, an angry Ms Forbes told us: ‘Loyal customers who depend on the EE network have been waiting patiently, but enough is enough.
‘Businesses cannot be expected to function without a phone signal when they’re paying for a contract.
‘Just because the site is in a more remote area of the country, EE cannot be excused for not fixing the mast as a matter of urgency.’
Ms Forbes has raised the matter with EE frequently since early July and says EE customers on Ardnamurchan are now getting to the end of their tether.
‘This is no way for a commercial company to behave towards its most remote and rural customers, who depend on a phone signal for everything from healthcare to business transactions.
‘Time is ticking and EE must fix the mast and restore connectivity to its customers.’
And Ms Forbes’s office confirmed she has now escalated the matter to EE’s chief executive after one of her constituents claimed recently that EE had now advised them and other locals to leave the network and go to another provider.
Told of the problems, Fort William and Ardnamurchan councillor Andrew Baxter said such a long-running issue with the mobile service was a real concern.
‘Both residents and professionals rely on this network every day. For such a remote area the even patchy current network coverage is important,’ he said.
‘It’s vital that it is working and providing a reliable service.’
Asked to comment, an EE spokesperson said the ongoing signal issues in the Acharacle and Salen areas were the result of hardware faults at two separate sites.
‘We’re working with the site provider to restore service as quickly as possible, as well as exploring a number of temporary solutions to avoid further disruption, and we apologise for the inconvenience this may be causing our customers,’ the spokesperson added.
And EE has assured the Lochaber Times that anyone making calls to 999 will be able to connect to any mobile network in the area, so will not be affected by this service issue.
The Lochaber Times contacted Acharacle Medical Practice to ask if staff and patients had experienced any problems as a result of the EE situation but the practice manager was unavailable at the time going to press.
EE was selected by the Home Office to provide Britain’s emergency services with a new resilient national mobile network, giving 300,000 frontline emergency workers access to 4G voice and data.
The mobile phone giant’s new 4G Emergency Services Network (ESN) was meant to have replaced the existing system from mid-2017.
But the Home Office has just announced its overhaul of the ESN has been set back by another few years to allow for a new longer phased implementation of EE’s 4G ESN.