22-06-2012 : Orcadian Column 21st June 2012
For those interested, I now have empirical evidence that dispatching a cricket ball to the boundary is best achieved with a bat rather than one’s forehead.
My evidence comes in the form of two stitches, some sterustrip and a sullen black eye. It was garnered during last Sunday’s annual contest between Sanday and Stromness for The Embers, which the latter won after a couple of falls, eventual submission and the aforementioned attempted knockout.
Thankfully, showing remarkable foresight, Sanday’s captain chose to blend medical expertise with cricketing nous when selecting his team, positioning the island’s nurse at mid-wicket and a locum GP on the third man boundary.
By the end of the afternoon, their collective statistics read: two stitches, two run-outs and one very smart catch at the second attempt.
As I lay seeping blood into the Sanday school pitch, wondering if I was contravening provisions in the nitrates regulation, there was much debate as to whether or not this was a stunt on my part. Having been involved last month in getting the Scottish Ambulance Service to deliver on its promise to provide Sanday with a new ambulance, I was accused by one cynical teammate of manufacturing an excuse to get a ride in the vehicle.
Others pointed to the fact that details of the new air ambulance contract for the Highlands and Islands had been announced earlier in the week, inferring that my decision to head the cricket ball was a masochistic attempt to be the first patient picked up by the new EC145 helicopter.
All lies, of course, but it helped pass the time.
The award of the new air ambulance contract to Gama Aviation, the current incumbent, was no real surprise as rumours had been circulating for weeks.
What was disappointing, however, was to see that demands from the public and medical professionals in the islands for one of the helicopters or fixed wing aircraft to be based in Orkney had been ignored once more.
Being fair, improvements to the service have been made.
Loganair is now contracted to provide patient transfers from the outer isles for some urgent, but non-emergency cases. Meanwhile, the new EC145 helicopters, based in Inverness and Glasgow, are larger and faster than the EC135s they will replace. This should improve response times and also allow family members to accompany patients, where necessary.
Nevertheless, there is no guarantee yet that the new generation of helicopters will prove any more reliable at flying in certain weather conditions, a consistent complaint regarding the current fleet. Even if they are, though, being based in Inverness will prevent the helicopter taking advantage of shorter weather windows and inevitably delay the time it takes to respond.
I have written to SAS and the Health Secretary reiterating my view that having an aircraft based in Kirkwall makes sense and would deliver benefits, not just to Orkney but to the service as a whole.
Relocating the King Air from Aberdeen to Orkney, for example, would improve response times for Orkney, Shetland and potentially the Western Isles.
It would also allow patient transfers to be made from Orkney that otherwise would not be possible, given that visibility requirements for take-off are less stringent than for landing. And with patients being carried both to and from Aberdeen, it would reduce the number of ‘empty legs’ being flown, delivering savings in terms of patient transfer costs.
Alternatively, Ministers and the SAS could agree to locate one of the current EC135 helicopters locally. Again this would have cost benefits, as well as improve response times and reliability for communities in the three main island groups as well as Caithness and Sutherland.
These are real win-wins, and I hope the Health Secretary and SAS will respond positively to my suggestions.
Meantime, despite my swashbuckling performance on the cricket field that saw me ‘retired hurt’ on 10 not out, the real sporting heroics last weekend came courtesy of Orkney’s junior inter-county team.
The convincing victory over Shetland, securing the Stuart Cup for the first in five years, was richly deserved.
I congratulate all the players, coaches and organisers and thank them for allowing me the chance to ask my Shetland colleague, Tavish Scott MSP, if he would like custard with his humble pie!