AN AIR ambulance plane intended for Orkney which mistakenly flew to Shetland last week took nearly four hours to arrive in Kirkwall after first touching down at Sumburgh, it has emerged.
NHS Grampian has now apologised “unreservedly” for the error, which took place last Friday night when the King Air plane was sent from Aberdeen to collect an infant.
The child was treated before being returned home.
News of the error, which NHS Grampian was an “isolated mistake”, prompted Orkney MSP Liam McArthur to write to Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) bosses to express his concern.
Shetland Islands Council’s community safety and resilience board chairman Alastair Cooper said he was “amazed” to learn of the “miscalculation”.
A SAS spokesperson confirmed that the plane first landed at Sumburgh Airport just before 10pm to drop off staff and equipment before returning again.
However, the patient only arrived at Aberdeen Maternity Hospital at nearly 5am on Saturday morning.
“We received a request from a member of NHS Grampian staff in Aberdeen at 19.05 hours on Friday 17 March to retrieve a patient from hospital in Shetland,” they said.
“We dispatched our fixed wing air ambulance from Aberdeen and it dropped off our team and equipment in Shetland at 21.57 hours. Shortly after arriving in Shetland, our team was advised that the patient they had been sent to retrieve was actually in Orkney.
“Once we were made aware of the error, our fixed wing air ambulance returned to Shetland to transfer the team and equipment to Orkney. Our aircraft arrived in Kirkwall at 01.44 hours to retrieve the patient from Balfour Hospital.
“The patient arrived safely at Aberdeen Maternity Hospital at 04.45 hours. This is an extremely unusual occurrence and we have been reviewing the circumstances around the initial request with NHS Grampian. We have written to the family inviting them to meet with us to discuss the circumstances around the transfer.”
An NHS Grampian spokesperson said the health board also wanted to apologise to the SAS for the error.
“Following an initial analysis of the timeline of last Friday’s events it is clear that a member of NHS Grampian staff made an error during the process of arranging transport.
“This led to the Scottish Ambulance Service aircraft wrongly travelling to Shetland. We must stress that this is an extremely unusual incident. We have seen nothing to suggest this was anything other than an isolated mistake.
“We are continuing to investigate further and co-operating with the Scottish Ambulance Service. We are contacting the family involved to keep them updated and to offer to meet with them should they wish.”
Responding to the apology, McArthur said: “This incident understandably raised serious concerns with people in Orkney, and the agencies involved were right to initiate urgent investigations.
“NHS Grampian’s confirmation that this situation arose as a result of a mistake by one of its staff is helpful and I welcome the board’s offer to meet with the family involved to discuss any concerns in more detail. The apology to the SAS crew is also entirely appropriate, given that they were clearly blameless in what happened.
“Obviously, the risk of human error is difficult to remove entirely, but if lessons can be learned from this event, it is important that this happens.”