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Emergency services / Coastguard crew strike results in rare visit to isles for charity air ambulance helicopter

The SCAA chopper at the Clickimin landing site. Photo; Jim Mullay

THE SCOTTISH Charity Air Ambulance put in a marathon shift last week when the organisation’s chopper came to the help of a patient in Fair Isle who needed urgent medical care at Lerwick’s Gilbert Bain Hospital.

The call came last Thursday (30 May) when the Sumburgh based crew of the search and rescue helicopter was engaged in strike action as part of an ongoing dispute over pay and conditions with their employer Bristow Helicopters.

A spokesperson for the SCAA said its Helimed79 aircraft was tasked to airlift a man from Fair Isle, a location they had not been to before.

The 449-mile round flight involved a refuel at Kirkwall on route and a second refuel at Sumburgh before the long flight back to the Aberdeen base – a total of almost four hours in flight.

Meanwhile also on Thursday, the charity’s other helicopter, based at Perth, was busy airlifting in the west of Scotland at a time when the crew of the Stornoway-based search and rescue helicopter was on strike.

SCAA’s operations manager Russell MacKay said the exhausting shift for both crews resulted in not only a lifeline for four patients but a record flying hours total for the charity.

“We’ve never had crews flying for ten hours and 50 minutes in any single day before,” he said.

The SCAA helicopter airlifted a patient from Fair Isle on Thursday. Photo: SCAA

“This shows the dedication of our life-saving teams and the capability of our aircraft in reaching far beyond our mainland to support our most remote communities.

“As our demand increases both on the mainland and in remote locations such as Fair Isle and Barra, the specialist medical care SCAA provides – along with our ability to respond quickly – highlights the importance of SCAA and the lifeline service we provide for people all over Scotland.

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A spokesperson for Bristow confirmed that strike action for this week has been suspended following initial discussions at the end of last week.

“Bristow is meeting with [union] BALPA again this week under the auspices of ACAS,” he said. “While we are pleased talks have resumed, we are very much aware there is still work to be done before we reach a resolution to this issue.”

Members of the BALPA union working as crew of the Sumburgh based coastguard helicopter also went on strike earlier in May, with Stornoway the nearest cover.

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