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Councillors, community councillors, MSPs and members of the public have joined forces to urge NHS Highland and the Scottish Government to respond to calls for a purpose-built helipad to be built adjacent to Campbeltown Hospital.
Donald Cameron, MSP for the Highlands and Islands, has written to Cabinet Secretary for Health, Jeane Freeman, and NHS Highland chief executive, Iain Stewart, urging them to fast-forward a proposal to upgrade a water-logged playing field adjacent to the hospital so that it can safely host helicopters.
Mr Cameron said: ‘I was contacted by a concerned member of the public, Stuart McLellan, who has consulted many of the relevant agencies, including Argyll and Bute Council which owns the land but is happy to make it available, the Civil Aviation Authority which has given the proposal the green light, and local health practitioners who are very keen to see progress.
‘And no wonder – presently, the air ambulance has to land some 20 minutes away from the hospital. If we can cut the delay in getting emergency cases to hospital I firmly believe we could save lives.
‘I was therefore very surprised to learn that despite the widespread support for the proposal, and the prospect of financial support from a third party, NHS Highland appears to be very slow in moving the project forward. I want to get to the bottom of this and am asking for an explanation from the very top.’
Mr McLellan, who has relatives living near the hospital, said: ‘I am very grateful to Donald for intervening and I hope he is successful in injecting a bit of urgency into NHS Highland.
‘This is a golden ticket-on-a-plate offer that NHS Highland is about to throw away if it doesn’t get a move on.’
Michael Russell, MSP for Argyll and Bute, has also been in touch with the Cabinet Secretary, asking her to do all she can to expedite matters, as well as Argyll and Bute Health and Social Care Partnership.
Mr Russell said: ‘Mr McLellan’s initiative on this is admirable and the local support, including from the councillors, has been terrific. It now needs to be backed by a sense of urgency from health service managers.’
South Kintyre councillor John Armour said: ‘I share the frustration of Stuart McLellan in the time it is taking to get this done.
‘I asked Argyll and Bute Council to work quickly to issue a licence and permission to use the field which it owns and was delighted that this was done and in place nearly 18 months ago, but I’m really frustrated that NHS Highland is taking so long to give it the go-ahead.’
Argyll First councillor Donald Kelly who contacted George Morrison, NHS Highland’s head of finance for Argyll and Bute, just last week for an update, told the Courier: ‘The NHS has been dragging its heels over this project and it’s past time that it was delivered.’
Mr Morrison’s response to Mr Kelly was very much in line with what an NHS Highland spokesman told the Courier: ‘The construction of the helipad is treated as a capital project and we therefore have to follow Health Facilities Scotland Framework.
‘The appointed HFS Framework contractor is Kier Construction and we have asked them to provide a costed proposal for construction of the helipad.
‘Once we receive this proposal we will ask the proposed funder, HELP Appeal, to confirm that they are willing to fund construction at the cost proposed by Kier and if this is confirmed then we will then be in a position to move forward with implementation of the project.’
The HELP Appeal, or Helicopter Emergency Landing Pads Appeal, is involved in a variety of important helipad projects throughout Scotland and England. Established in 2009, the County Air Ambulance Trust-run charity provides non-repayable grants towards the cost of improvements to helipads or the installation of new facilities altogether.