Political stushie over Mull ambulance service

Most people probably see the Oban RNLI Lifeboat as the ‘ambulance service’ for the Isle of Mull.

Mora Edith Macdonald, her coxswain and her volunteer crew are expert through long experience at evacuating from the island at all hours residents and visitors stricken by medical emergencies.

The land-based island ambulance service, though, has for some time been the subject of contention between islanders and the Scottish Ambulance Service.

Around a year ago, then Cabinet Secretary for Health, Alex Neil, met with representatives of the Mull community and the Chair and CEO of the Scottish Ambulance Service [SAS] to discuss island-wide concern about the level of cover provided.

At that meeting that SAS agreed to work with the community to meet its concerns and to carry out an options appraisal for the service.

The group met again in March 2015 and the community expressed growing concern that SAS was not yet fully engaged in ensuring that commitments entered into were translated into action on the ground.

The option which the community resoundingly voted for was a rapid response vehicle with a prompt and sustainable 24/7 paramedic cover. This is the option they had understood was being taken forward by SAS.

The community has followed through with the training of volunteer first responders to support this provision. NHS Highland appears interested in providing the vehicle, though the community want it operated by the Ambulance Service.

Local MSP, Michael Russell has recently met SAS’s Daren Mochrie, the Director of Service Delivery and Garry Fraser, General Manager for the South West.

Grateful to the officials fo the meeting but disappointed at the outcome, M Russell says: ‘However in meeting after meeting on the island SAS has avoided making a commitment to delivering this agreed outcome citing a whole range of difficulties including lack of budget, low demand and the risk of “skills atrophy” for paramedics working on the island.

The trouble is that all three of these issues are genuine. They call into play the extent to which those making the lifestyle choice to live on islands consider the level of service they are entitled – at an affordable and achievable level – to expect; and they call into play the responsibility of government – in its wider strategic plan for the future of the country – to take account of the levels of service they commit to providing for islanders.

The associated trouble is therefore – politics.

Politicians of all colours are most fundamentally in the business of buying favour for their party [to be expressed later in votes] by delivering benefits and making promises of more [which may not be remotely attainable] to whichever group wherever whom they deem important to their own or their party’s vote.

This behaviour breeds a sense of entitlement in sectors of the population which,  assuaged as it usually is, is detrimental to responsible government of the country as a whole, to the most effective distribution of limited resources and to a balanced provision of services across the territory.

With the May 2016 Scottish Election on the increasingly near horizon – an election certain to be absolutely crucial to the constitutional future of Scotland, the ‘buying of favour’ arena is exacty where we are today.

Mr Russell has seen fit to issue the Scottish Ambulance Service with a self-styled ‘ultimatum’. A man who enjoys the theatre of ultimatums of all kinds, Mr Russell has given the SAS six weeks ‘to set a firm, agreed timetable for delivering this solution or they must be very explicit in rejecting it and give clear reasons for doing so’.

The ‘or else’ penalty of the ultimatum in this case is that if the SAS cannot or do not accept the ultimatum: ‘I will campaign with the community for what Mull was promised a year ago and which SAS has so far failed to produce – the comprehensive, safe and sustainable ambulance service that islanders have a right to expect.’

The MSP says: ‘I have arranged to meet the two SAS officials in six weeks time and meanwhile I will write to the Cabinet Secretary setting out the continued dissatisfaction of my constituents on Mull with the situation.’

He does note that: ‘SAS confirmed to me today that the landing site for the helicopter ambulance at Bunessan is ready to become operational once a red light is fixed to the school by Argyll & Bute Council.  I am asking the Council to complete that task with urgency so that a second night landing site is available on Mull.’

With two night landing sites available and the Oban Lifeboat, with a doctor amongst its crew, standing ready 24\7 to carry out yet another medevac [medical evacuation] from the island – with SAS paramedics onboard, Mull is not in a crisis situation – or at least, where it is, the emergency services are experienced in assisting and have the means and facilities to do so.

Public Services, shaped and funded by governments, are between a rock and a hard place with communities fuelled by a sense of tutored entitlement which, in some cases may be less than either judicious or deliverable – and rampant politicians on party political missions on behalf of the party of government.

Road Equivalent Tariff fares on the ferries will increase the number of visitors – and possibly residents [and casualties] that Mull can expect to experience in coming years.

This situation is created by government with the resulting needs and responsibilities requiring to be accepted and acted upon.

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Related Articles & Comments

  • Your vitriol towards Mr. Russell and the SNP knows no bounds. I am no great fan of either, but really, to suggest that the potential growth of Mull both as a community and economy (and the obvious statistical likelihood of more illness and injury in a larger population) because of RET belittles you. Perhaps we should all go and live in Paisley next to the hospital?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 10

    Neil Dyer October 1, 2015 1:51 pm Reply
  • The lifeboat Service, funded by charitable giving and manned by volunteers, exists to save lives at sea. It seems to me that the Oban lifeboat is being abused by the Coastguard and the Government emergency services as an out of hours medical emergency ferry service and as a yachtie’s floating “AA style” breakdown service.
    The Ambulance Service should have a contract with a local ferry operator to provide a ferry on demand during the hours that the commercial Calmac ferry is off shift. Only if this service cannot operate should the lifeboat be summoned.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

    Murdoch MacKenzie October 2, 2015 2:23 am Reply
    • CalMac is the only local ferry operator and the way they crew their ferries makes out-of-hours coverage of the kind Western Ferries offer more or less incompatible with the IMO rest hours rules; being called out in the middle of the night might result in not being able to complete the scheduled run without new crew or busting the existing crew’s rest hours.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

      db October 3, 2015 6:41 pm Reply
      • Not true, Coastal Connections provided a ferry service to Mull during the recent Calmac strikes. I’m sure there are others as well.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

        Murdoch MacKenzie October 4, 2015 1:57 am Reply
      • I think I read a few years ago how Western Ferries provided an emergency service from Dunoon and called out a crew after hours if necessary.

        Don’t the ambulance service have to pay if they use the Coastguard / RN helicopter and obviously would have to pay if they called out a Calmac ferry but the RNLI provide the service free.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

        Lundavra October 4, 2015 7:42 am Reply
        • No.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

          No Cheese Here October 4, 2015 2:18 pm Reply
          • Western Ferries
            ‘ He is immensely proud of the fact that 95per cent of his 57 staff live in and around Dunoon, that they provide a free ambulance service through the night, that they even run on Christmas Day and at New Year, and that the company supports local charities.’
            That was 2006, have they stopped providing the service?

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

            Lundavra October 4, 2015 4:12 pm

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