Impassioned Plea To Help Repatriate Patient Stuck On Mainland

Julia Day at the Full Council meeting

A St Mary’s Councillor has made an impassioned plea to help repatriate a sick patient back to the islands.

Councillor Julia Day said she had been approached by an islander whose husband is trapped in a mainland hospital because he is in a wheelchair and not able to transfer to a seat on a plane, helicopter or the Scillonian III.

In the statement, read out by Julia during Tuesday’s Full Council meeting, she said, “tonight, an islander is languishing on the mainland, his partner here, when their time together is both precious and now limited.”

She called on the Council and the local community to stand behind the Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee and the Islands’ LINk health watchdog who are working hard to get the situation resolved.

Julia said they needed a “simple protocol, which allows for the repatriation of those people who are not physically able to transfer from a wheelchair to an aircraft seat.”

Councillor Dudley Mumford, who chairs the Health Overview Committee, said he found the matter distressing and totally unacceptable. He said it needs to be addressed as soon as possible and he would be making it a priority.

Julia told us she made the plea to the Council because she felt so strongly about the predicament of the couple involved.

The same happened to Julia and her husband Michael two years ago, when he suffered a major stroke.

Michael was taken to the mainland by emergency helicopter and spent 10 weeks in hospital.

She said they were delighted when he was discharged, and couldn’t wait to come home.

But as he was no longer classed as an emergency, they couldn’t use the air ambulance or rescue helicopter and it took another week for him to be repatriated to the islands.

Julia isn’t blaming the transport companies. She said Skybus, the helicopters and the Scillonian III can take wheelchair passengers as long as they can transfer to a normal seat on board but not those who have to stay in their wheelchair, as they don’t have a permanent chair clamp fitted.

Michael was eventually transferred on a stretcher in a Skybus Islander plane with the seats removed, but that took a week to be arranged.

She says there is no clear protocol for arranging that when someone is discharged from hospital and she spent hours on the phone in “tortuous” negotiations with the various agencies such as the NHS and Ambulance Trust.

Julia said she never wanted that to happen to another patient and took the matter up as Chair of Council at the time when she returned. So she says she’s devastated it’s happening again.

Julia says this could happen to anyone, such as a young sports player breaking both legs on a rugby field, or someone in a car accident, not just the elderly.

Jeff Marston, Chief Executive of the Steamship Company who operate Skybus and the Sillonian III, told us he’d welcome the introduction of a simple protocol to assist people who require repatriation.

He said there is no denying that transporting people with limited mobility to and from the Isles of Scilly is a problem, specifically for those requiring a stretcher.

Jeff says CAA regulations state that they can only use approved equipment when undertaking any repatriation.

As they don’t have that available at the moment, they’re unable to provide transport to people using a stretcher.

Jeff added they’re in discussion with a number of potential partners about developing a long-term solution to this problem but there are significant cost implications.

“We will always try to accommodate people who need to travel to or from the Isles of Scilly and wherever possible, and within regulation, we will find a way to provide transport,” he said.

Amanda Fisk, Director of Commissioning Development at the PCT admitted there were problems with the system for repatriation.

She said, “Due to a recent problem with the stretcher equipment on our non-emergency charter flights, case by case arrangements are currently having to be made for the small number of stretcher and non-mobile patients who need to be repatriated from hospitals on the mainland to the Isles of Scilly.

She added, “Although there has been a slight delay in some cases, we are doing everything we can to ensure that patients who are medically fit for discharge are repatriated as soon as possible. The various NHS organisations are also working with partner agencies to resolve the situation and find a permanent solution as a matter of priority.”

Melodie Juste from South West Ambulance Service Trust said that while they carry out the actual transfers, they don’t organise them. This request has to come from the Primary Care Trust.

British International Helicopters did not respond to our enquiry.