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Concern over air ambulance provision

The Bond-operated Jigsaw helicopter. Photo: Kieran Murray

THE AIR ambulance service from Shetland’s more remote areas might be adversely affected by oil industry plans that could see the removal of the locally based Jigsaw search and rescue helicopter.

BP is currently reviewing its offshore SAR service, with some newspapers already reporting that the service will be axed after 2016.

The Sumburgh-based Jigsaw helicopter is also contracted to assist the Scottish Ambulance Service fulfill their role in Shetland.

The development has set alarm bells ringing among health professionals and local politicians who are now seeking reassurances from the ambulance service.

The issue is being added as an urgent item to the next meeting of the Shetland community safety board on 20 November.

NHS Shetland chairman Ian Kinniburgh said community confidence is reinforced by the presence of robust emergency medical retrieval services.

“The Jigsaw helicopter plays a significant role in supporting that retrieval service,” he said.

“I would hope and expect that the Scottish Ambulance Service take appropriate steps to ensure that any change to the current model is not to the detriment of the overall service.

“I would look to them to keep us and the Shetland public informed of progress with any future discussion or negotiation around potential change.”

Unst based councillor Gary Cleaver added: “Any move to reduce the capacity of the air ambulance would obviously be a concern not just for the north isles but for all of our rural and outlying communities.

“If it is the intention to remove the Jigsaw element then there needs to be something put in place that seamlessly fit into that gap.”

A spokeswoman for BP said the company was discussing putting “different arrangements” in place after the current contract with Bond Helicopters comes to an end in early 2016.

She confirmed that the Shetland based Jigsaw helicopter would remain in place until then.

The second Jigsaw helicopter, based on the Miller platform, will be relocated to a Scottish mainland base so that the installation can be decommissioned in 2015.

John Morton of the Scottish Ambulance Service said the agency was watching developments.

“In the event of a medical emergency, patients are currently evacuated using either the Jigsaw helicopter or MOD and Coastguard aircraft,” he said.

“We are aware that BP is reviewing future arrangements for the Jigsaw and will continue to monitor developments closely.”