Thursday 27 February 2014

Islanders struggling to make mainland medical appointments.

From Scilly Today 26 Feb report (click here for full article) :

Carol Clarke, manager of Scilly’s Healthwatch organisation (website here) says she is “despondent” that island patients are still struggling to attend mainland medical appointments. Carol Clarke was speaking to members of the IOS Council’s Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee at their meeting on 20 Feb 2014.

Recent bad weather and the closure of Land’s End Airport has resulted in islanders missing or declining to attend clinics because of the difficulty getting to the hospitals. Carol Clarke said it feels like they’re moving backwards rather than forwards, despite a huge amount of work. Carol said it’s been impossible for patients travelling via Newquay Airport this winter to use public transport to make appointments in a single day.

To read the rest of this news items go to Scilly Today.


Travel in the winter between the islands and the mainland was often problematic even when the BIH helicopter service was available. The helicopter was however less vulnerable to cancellation by bad weather and with the mainland terminal at Penzance it was convenient for West Cornwall Hospital and public transport links.

Islanders experienced a nightmare winter after the helicopter service closed in Nov 2012. Clinics on the islands were cancelled because consultants from the mainland could not get to the islands, medical samples could not be promptly flown out for testing and patients experienced horrendous difficulty attending appointments on the mainland. What is clear from Healthwatch is that matters have not improved significantly. and may even have deteriorated.

Lands End Airport (currently with grass landing strips) was due to have hard runway surfaces laid in Oct/Nov 2013.  This would have improved matters somewhat but the project has been delayed.  Winter transport links between the mainland and the islands are manifestly inadequate and there is nothing in the pipeline that will change matters.  Light aircraft able to land on the short runway at St Mary's are vulnerable to bad weather and, unlike all comparable islands in the UK, there is no winter ferry service as an alternative.  The medical transport problem is proving intractable and if not resolved will impose ever tighter constraints on who can live on the islands.

The public information pack for the Health Oversight & Scrutiny Committee meeting held on 20 Feb 2014 can be found here.

The information pack includes the minutes of the 3 Dec 2013 meeting which make grim reading. To quote from the minutes:

Councillors Mrs C S Savill remarked that the delay over all these key health services was now at a level that many deem to be un-acceptable, and that the Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee should look to exercise its right to seek answers from the Secretary of State because the public’s health is now suffering.

Mrs J Hurd echoed these comments, and added that she felt that the St Mary’s Health Centre was ‘hitting a brick wall’ in trying to achieve health provision goals on the islands at present.

Interestingly the medical transport dilemma did not feature on the agenda of the Transport Committee Meeting held two days before (18 Feb) which raises the question why not ?  Medical travel is not discretionary travel.  If the IOS Council's transport strategy cannot deliver adequate medical transport then it is 'broken'.  There needs to be an acknowledgement that the transport strategy is 'broken'.  What we have at the moment is an embarrassing silence.

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