RAF choppers and isolation pods for poorly islanders

A Puma crewman supports the doctors and paramedics of the Scottish Ambulance Service during the loading of an Epishuttle. © UK MOD Crown Copyright 2020

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A pledge has been made that islanders will get emergency intensive care help in the coronavirus crisis.

With the islands miles away from specialist intensive care facilities, there are concerns how poorly patients will get access to urgent treatment.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman MSP has given reassurances after fears were raised by Alasdair Allan MSP who represents Na h-Eileanan an Iar, a vast area of seven constituencies including  Shetland and Orkney, and Argyll  and Bute. Angus B MacNeil MP, who represents part of the same area in Westminster, has also raised similar concerns.

The Scottish Government, Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) and others are said to have worked in partnership to address the problem.

Plans have included the procurement of special ‘Epishuttles’ which are single patient isolation pods used to transport highly-infectious patients and protect flight crews and health staff.

Eight have been purchased but they are not yet all in place.

The RAF is also providing cover for any transfers off the islands using three helicopters usually based in South Oxfordshire which have been deployed to RAF Kinloss.

In the event of aircraft being requested and Epishuttles not being available,  paramedics will also deploy a specialist team to help existing health workers on the islands to prepare a patient for speedy transfer.

Regional airline company Loganair is also providing two additional aircraft kitted out with Epishuttles.

Those patients on islands without landing facilities for fixed-wing aircraft would receive airlift by helicopter, officials have said.

Mr MacNeil MP said he had been ‘encouraged’ by the efforts of the Scottish Government, Scottish Ambulance Service, Loganair and the military.

‘At this time it is good to remember the amount of co-operation taking place among many statutory bodies,’ said Mr MacNeil.

Mr Allan added: ‘This is a very welcome confirmation of extra capacity for patient transport at what is set to be a difficult time for island communities.’

By yesterday, Monday April 6, the killer bug had claimed the lives of more than 220 people in Scotland, leaving 1,500 in hospital and 200 in intensive care.

Ninety five of Scotland’s islands are occupied by a total of 103,000 people but ICU’s tend to be at university-affiliated hospitals or large general hospitals.