Western Islands patients handed vital lifeline as airports set to close

Patients in the Western Isles are being reassured they will be taken to the mainland for vital hospital appointments as airports are set to close on Sunday.

Vital lifeline handed to Western Isles patients
Vital lifeline handed to Western Isles patients

NHS Western Isles say every effort will be made to get them to hospital after Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (HIAL) took the decision to close all their airports to scheduled and routine air traffic from March 29 in response to strict measure announced by the UK and Scottish Governments on Monday.

The group has worked with Transport Scotland and Loganair to agree a skeleton schedule that will ensure airports continue to provide essential services including NHS passenger transfer and transport for essential key workers, such as visiting consultants.

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All other services will cease from 30 March until further notice in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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A limited timetable will run for Glasgow-Benbecula, Glasgow-Stornoway and Stornoway-Benbecula. Royal Mail charter flights to the islands will continue.

In terms of travel by ferry, CalMac has introduced an Essential Lifeline Timetable as a result of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

The new reduced timetable will run for an initial three-week period and will be subject to continual review in a rapidly changing environment.

Essential travel will continue, and this includes patients travelling to hospital on the mainland for appointments.

With the suspension of the flight to Inverness, this ferry option will be vital for patients receiving essential treatment/attending urgent appointments in Raigmore Hospital in particular.

NHS Western Isles say it appreciates the ongoing support from these organisations to ensure essential and lifeline services are available.

A spokesperson said: “We also recognise some of these changes will be extremely disruptive and upsetting for our patients, in particular where ferry/taxi travel is the only option available for appointments in Inverness, but we would like to assure patients that we will endeavour to assist them in any way that we can at this very difficult time.

“Please contact your local patient travel office if you have any questions or concerns.”