NHS deals with travel crisis

NHS Shetland is taking advantage of extra NorthLink sailings to send patients to hospital in Aberdeen, after the disruption to air travel from the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud.

Meanwhile oil flights to and from Scatsta airport resumed last night after receiving the all clear from NATS, the air navigation provider.

Around 7pm last night (Tuesday) five helicopters took off from the oil airport to collect 95 oil workers stranded offshore in the North Sea and north Atlantic, with 114 workers due to fly up on a fixed wing aircraft from Aberdeen to stay the night in the isles.

Director of public health Sarah Taylor said yesterday that the air ambulance was available to fly life threatening cases, but none had arisen in Shetland since the start of the crisis last week.

The Shetland-based air ambulance helicopter has been in service on the Scottish mainland to help more urgent cases, but has also flown people to hospital in Lerwick from rural Shetland in the past few days.

Some patients who would normally be sent to Aberdeen by air ambulance, such as pregnant mothers, cancer patients and children have been treated at Lerwick’s Gilbert Bain Hospital in consultation with specialists on the mainland.

However as a result of NorthLink’s announcement yesterday that they would be operating a shuttle service between Lerwick and Aberdeen to relieve the backlog of air travellers, the NHS has booked some patients on board the ferry Hjaltland.

“Now that we have additional sailings we are able to put some patients on board who need a cabin, and I think we are able to offer everybody who has to go to the mainland a way of getting there,” Dr Taylor said.

A small number of health staff are stuck outside Shetland unable to return to work, but this had not caused any disruption to local services, she added. One visiting consultant had come north on board the ferry.

Some chemotherapy patients have received their treatment in Shetland after medicines were shipped north, and some children who would normally have been treated on the mainland have been kept in Lerwick and examined by a visiting paediatrician.

Anyone with a hospital appointment on the mainland is advised to contact the patient travel service whose contact details are listed on the letter they will have received from the NHS.

Meanwhile Shetland’s inter island service had returned to normal yesterday though few people were travelling.

Loganair were hoping normal service would resume at Sumburgh airport today (Wednesday).

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