Fears over Island’s medical cover

Holy Island Causeway
Holy Island Causeway

An islander has called on his MP to take the lead in the fight to ensure that Holy Island has adequate emergency medical cover.

The plea comes following the Search and Rescue (SAR) service ceasing to be run from RAF Boulmer, with the Sea Kings flying off for the last time on Wednesday, September 30.

Cover for north Northumberland will now be provided by the new civilian service, run by Bristow Helicopters on behalf of HM Coastguard.

The nearest bases are at Humberside Airport, which went live on April 1, and Glasgow (Prestwick), which doesn’t go live until January 1, 2016.

Following this, Island resident Kyle Luke has written to Berwick MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan in the hope that she can ask interested parties to a meeting to share views and concerns with a view to finding a solution.

He wrote: ‘At a meeting on the Island earlier this month, between the fire brigade and Coastguard, a system under which the Coastguard’s helicopter would collect and drop firefighters onto the Island in the event of a fire they need to attend was developed. That system calls for the helicopter to come from Hull or Glasgow.

‘The time to reach the Island from that distance is understood to be well over an hour; that is far too long to be considered as an appropriate response to a medical emergency, say a heart attack or a stroke’.

He added: ‘The need for an emergency medical service for the Island should never be underestimated. The Island has a small, but ageing, population of some 150 with a further 100 at the children’s camp from Easter until end of September and some 50 or so staying at hotels or B&Bs.

‘In addition, of course, we have some 650,000 daily visitors each year – all of these will be people for whom no emergency medical service is available for 10 hours each day from hereon in’.

Prior to receiving this letter, Mrs Trevelyan was already aware of this issue.

Reflecting on the end of the Sea Kings and the future of the SAR service last month, she said: “While I hope that the new civilian provision taking over from 202 Squadron as of October will be excellent and effective, I remain concerned about the difficult terrain locations where emergencies have historically been well served by the RAF Boulmer team.

“I am particularly working with a variety of emergency service groups to find adequate solutions for emergency provision for Holy Islanders and tourist visitors.

“We have here a unique challenge with the causeway at high tide, which needs a unique solution now that the Sea King is no longer available.”

Seahouses’ lifeboat operations manager, Ian Clayton, said: “I can see an increased demand on RNLI services as a stopgap; for people who are taken ill on the Farne Islands or Holy Island, when the tide’s in and the causeway’s closed, the helicopter’s always been the best option, but it might be that sending a lifeboat is a stopgap until the helicopter arrives.

“It’s all unknown at this stage, like with anything new.”

Contrary to misconceptions, the Great North Air Ambulance can fly to Holy Island. The charity’s helicopter is limited to 10 minutes’ flying over water, but the Island is well within this timeframe.