Proposed hospital helipad to be named after hero paramedic

The site where the helicopter currently lands is often water-logged and muddy.
The site where the helicopter currently lands is often water-logged and muddy.

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A proposed new Campbeltown Hospital helipad, which is currently being considered for planning permission by Argyll and Bute Council, is to be named in memory of hero paramedic Robert Black.

The installation of a purpose-built helipad at the current, water-logged landing site directly adjacent to Campbeltown Hospital, from which emergency patients are transferred by air ambulance to hospitals, could prove life-saving as it will allow transfers at all times of the day and night and in all weather conditions.

The Helicopter Emergency Landing Pads (HELP) Appeal has agreed to fully fund the £270,000 project.

The helipad project was instigated by Stuart McLellan, from Neilston, East Renfrewshire, who spent many childhood holidays in Campbeltown visiting his relatives John and Dorothy Biggins.

Like many before him, Stuart was perplexed by the lack of a helicopter landing pad for Campbeltown Hospital, particularly as the air ambulance often had difficulty landing when the field was flooded.

When this happened, the helicopter was forced to divert to Campbeltown Airport, delaying patients getting to definitive care if the airport had to open to prepare to receive the inbound air ambulance.

Stuart made tentative enquiries and held discussions with Argyll and Bute Council and NHS representatives before building an extensive business case and approaching the HELP Appeal for funding.

He said: ‘I’m delighted to have been able to get this project this far for Campbeltown; it’s long overdue. I’ll be even happier when I’m standing on the embankment watching the first helicopter land on the purpose-built helipad which the community has needed for quite some time.

‘I’d like to thank everyone who has been involved and persevered with me to make this project happen, including the HELP Appeal, local MSPs, councillors and community councillors, South Kintyre Development Trust (SKDT), local residents, NHS Highland, Argyll and Bute Council, Civil Aviation Authority and the Scottish Ambulance Service.

‘I’d also like to thank McFadyen’s Contractors, FEC Heliports and McKinven and Colville Ltd for their continued support with their involvement in the construction plans for the helipad.’

Once approved, the new helipad is expected to be built on the site between January and March 2021.

SKDT has agreed to take on a licence to operate the helipad on land currently owned by the council and will take responsibility for the ongoing operation and maintenance of the site on behalf of the community.

Eric Spence, SKDT manager, said he ‘jumped at the opportunity’ as a helipad had been recognised as a priority for the community for ‘at least the last decade’.

He added: ‘My own interest in the helipad was first piqued a year or so ago when my good friend and local paramedic Robert Black asked me to see if SKDT could do anything about the helicopter landing site.

‘He described the shambles of an ambulance driving through water and mud to transfer an emergency patient to the helicopter before calling a recovery firm to come and drag the ambulance back out of the mud.’

Sadly, Robert died in early May after a battle with Covid-19 and was unable to see this project realised.

Eric added: ‘After speaking to my board of directors, we believe a fitting tribute to Robert would be to name the facility The Robert Black Memorial Helipad.

‘SKDT will undertake a funding drive to cover the cost of installing a plaque, having a launch ceremony and undertaking any ongoing maintenance required.’

Councillor Donald Kelly said: ‘It is excellent news that this much-needed facility is progressing. I know from personal experience how vital this service is to local people and, on behalf of the wider community, I thank everyone involved who has contributed to this project, especially Stuart for his drive and determination, which has helped make the Campbeltown helipad become a reality.’

Councillor John Armour added: ‘I have been happy to support this project since day one and liaised with council officers on Stuart’s behalf to get an agreement in place to use the field for the helipad, as well as sorting whatever issues cropped up.

‘It has taken longer than any of us hoped to get to the stage we are at now and it is all thanks to Stuart’s persistence that we are nearly there. The work and time he has put into this is phenomenal and I am delighted for him that his perseverance has been rewarded.

‘In years to come, when Campbeltown has its own purpose-built helipad, it should never be forgotten what Stuart has done for our community.’