THE SCOTTISH Ambulance Service (SAS) has moved to reassure Shetlanders that the early termination of the oil industry’s Jigsaw search and rescue contract, based at Sumburgh, will not affect its ability to respond to emergencies.
In a statement issued on Friday, it said the Jigsaw aircraft had previously been available to assist the SAS in making non-emergency transfers requested by outer island GPs. It had a timescale of between two and nine hours for transferring patients to hospital depending on their clinical condition.
On 30 March SAS was given 48 hours’ notice by air operators that the contract would cease a year ahead of schedule from 1 April, with the helicopter being relocated to operate out of Aberdeen.
An SAS spokesman said: “Shetland islanders should be reassured that the decision to relocate to Aberdeen does not affect our response to emergency calls and in the event of an emergency, patients will continue to be evacuated using either the SAS’s own helicopters, the Sumburgh-based coastguard helicopter or another UK search and rescue aircraft – whichever is closest when the call is received.”
North Isles councillor Gary Cleaver expressed concern about the prospect of reducing the capacity of the air ambulance when the change was first floated back in October 2014.
At the time a BP spokeswoman said the company was discussing putting “different arrangements” in place after the current contract with Bond Helicopters ends in early 2016.
The SAS spokesman added: “The SAS air ambulance management team continues to work with NHS Shetland and will undertake a joint review of all air ambulance evacuation requests from the outer isles and discussions with air operators to address the situation are continuing.
“In the meantime non-emergency patients will continue to be transferred either by SAS helicopter, or by chartered use of the inter-island Islander aircraft through a local agreement with Tingwall-based Directflight.”
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