Published: 28/02/2014 09:58 - Updated: 28/02/2014 10:10

KLB hopeful of answers over air ambulance ban

Air ambulance landings at Kinlochbervie after dark have been banned for safety reasons.
Air ambulance landings at Kinlochbervie after dark have been banned for safety reasons.

KINLOCHBERVIE Community Council hopes to finally find out next week why the air ambulance is no longer permitted to land at the port after dark.

Scottish Ambulance Service (SAC) chief Andrew Moir has agreed at the last minute to attend a community council meeting on Tuesday to discuss the issue.

SAC introduced the night-time landing ban at the end of 2013 but has resisted pressure to explain the move other than saying it is for safety reasons.

Community council vice-chairman Gary Sutherland said: "Despite repeated enquiries, no-one from SAC, NHS Scotland, which funds the service, and air ambulance operator Bon Air Services. have given any reasons for the decision."

Mr Moir, head of air ambulance services, initially accepted an invitation to attend the March meeting but then declined it, citing other commitments.

However, after the Northern Times approached SAC earlier this week for comment about the landing ban, Mr Moir contacted the community council to say he would attend the meeting after all.

Community councillors have also lodged a Freedom of Information request in a bid to get to the bottom of the matter.

Mr Sutherland said residents were perplexed at the ban as no changes had been made in the vicinity of the landing pad at Kinlochbervie harbour.

HM Coastguard and Royal Navy search and rescue helicopters continue to land at Kinlochbervie.

But Mr Sutherland said: "The primary role of these aircraft is search and rescue rather than medical emergencies."

The air ambulance stricture comes amid rising concern over difficulties in recruiting staff to crew Kinlochbervie’s road ambulance.

The ambulance has a five-strong crew allocation but two posts have been vacant for a considerable time.

A public meeting attended by Graham MacLeod, NHS Highland head of accident and emergency services, took place last month to discuss the issue.

Mr Sutherland said: "We feel that the part-time nature of the posts is a contributory factory to the recruitment difficulties.

"The community is calling on SAS to upgrade the posts to full-time, as is the case at Lochinver. However service managers seem reluctant to do so."

A spokesman for the Scottish Ambulance Service said: "Our air operator has advised that they will not currently operate into Kinlochbervie during the hours of darkness because of safety concerns.

"If there is a medical need for urgent night-time air evacuation, this will be undertaken by coastguard or Ministry of Defence aircraft on behalf of the Scottish Ambulance Service, which is the normal contingency when an air ambulance aircraft isn’t available.

"Last year there were two air missions to Kinlochbervie during darkness. We have agreed to meet the community to explain all aspects of air operations."

The spokesman added: "Operations team managers attended a public meeting in Kinlochbervie last month to discuss staffing concerns and explained that every possible avenue has been used to recruit staff and that effort continues."

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