New £40,000 helipad for Western Isles Hospital

The emergency helicopter landing pad at Western Isles Hospital in Stornaway has had a state-of-the-art upgrade thanks to a £40,000 donation from the HELP Appeal – the only charity in the UK dedicated to funding the construction of hospital helipads.

NHS Western Isles received the surprise cash injection from the HELP Appeal after the charity’s chief executive Robert Bertram read about the current state of the hospital’s helipad in a local newspaper article. The need for an upgrade became obvious in July during a test landing of the new Bond helicopters which were being brought into service by the Scottish Ambulance Service. The stretchers on board these helicopters have automatic drop-down wheels which were incompatible with the surface, potentially causing vital time to be lost during emergency transfers.

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At the time, NHS Western Isles Chief Executive Gordon Jamieson said the health board would be speaking to the Ambulance Service about options for upgrading the helipad – only to then get an approach, out of the blue, from the HELP Appeal.

They had soon pledged £40,000 for a complete upgrade. Now, the grass surface has been replaced with reinforced concrete paving and the lighting upgraded too.

It has been giving out grants for helipad projects since 2009. The Stornaway one is its third project in Scotland, after a £700,000 donation towards the helipad at the new Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow. A similar one is in the pipeline for Edinburgh Royal Infirmary in 2017, and last year the HELP Appeal funded a new helipad for Scotland’s Charity Air Ambulance base at Perth.

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Robert Bertram, Chief Executive of the HELP Appeal, said: “We had no hesitation in donating £40,000 to cover the entire cost of Western Isles Hospital’s helipad upgrade.

“Following our pledges of £700,000 to both Glasgow and Edinburgh’s hospital helipads, the Western Isles are the furthest north we’ve ever been and we hope the upgrade will make a huge difference for seriously ill patients and
trauma patients needing treatment at Stornoway Hospital.

“Faced with extreme weather conditions on a regular basis, never was a hospital helipad so deserving of an upgrade. Our donation has helped to ensure a secure and solid landing area for all air ambulances and the Coastguard
search and rescue helicopter that will withstand any future storms all the way through to Wendy and beyond.”

He added: “I read an article in the local newspaper saying how Western Isles Hospital urgently needed to upgrade its helipad. We have people supporting us all over the country, including Scotland, so it’s important to help save
lives wherever there is a need.

“Western Isles Hospital helipad needed an upgrade urgently. The poor state of the Air Ambulance landing area meant that vital time was being lost in rushing critically ill patients to mainland hospitals. The hospital stretchers also risked getting stuck in the soft grass when patients were being transferred. This compelled me to get in touch straight away with Western Isles Hospital’s CEO.”

He said the HELP Appeal was “always on the lookout” for hospitals which needed help with their helipads. They also help with feasibility studies, as well as the grants. And they do all this without any funding from the Government or the National Lottery, being instead reliant solely on donations from the public.

NHS Western Isles Chief Executive Gordon Jamieson recalled: “The charity made contact with us to make us aware of their work. They stepped forward and were very positive from the word go that they could at least contribute to the
upgrade.

“What actually happened was that the charity funded the complete works associated with bringing the helipad up to the right standard. 

“I can only thank them most sincerely for their kindness, for making themselves known to us and then funding the work in its entirety. 

“They had a no-nonsense, straightforward approach. They were very quick to make decisions, very prompt in their responses and very positive. All round, I found it a very positive and somewhat humbling experience and one for which
I will always remain grateful.”

Looking back at the challenge with the helipad surface, he said: “The stretcher wheels would not traverse grass so this was a problem in terms of getting any patient on and off the helicopter and to the edge of the pad. Now the helicopter can land, open the door and out comes the stretcher. It may sound dramatic but every second counts, it really does, when a patient needs evacuated.

“The quicker the transition to and from the helicopter can be, it can give us vital minutes which are extremely important to patients in terms of eventual outcome.”