NHS Western Isles’ concerns around Benbecula-Stornoway flights

Getty Images Benbecula Airport runwayGetty Images

Flights between Benbecula and Stornoway are funded by local authority Comhairle nan Eilean Siar

NHS Western Isles says changes to lifeline flights could badly hit some patient services.

Local authority Comhairle nan Eilean Siar funds a public service obligation (PSO) route between Benbecula and Stornoway and recently awarded a new four-year contract.

But the health board said there were now fewer seats than previously provided, and warned this could affect patients and clinicians travelling between the southern isles and the Western Isles’ main hospital in Stornoway.

The comhairle said it welcomed discussions on the contract, adding that the health board did not contribute anything financially towards the air service.

The flights from Benbecula to Stornoway take about 30 minutes.

The same journey by road can take more than four hours and involves a ferry crossing.

The comhairle’s new contract provides flights on more days than previously, but NHS Western Isles said capacity had been reduced.

The health board said there was now 24-seat capacity return a week over three days, compared with the previous capacity of 96-98 seats over two days.

It said the number of staff and passengers travelling for health appointments over the past five years had averaged at 25 a week one way, but added that this had at times risen to 33 seats per week.

NHS Western Isles’ board has met to discuss the concerns, and also possible alternative travel arrangements including block booking space on ferries.

The comhairle’s transport committee chairman, Uisdean Robertson, said the local authority would welcome any financial support for the flights.

He said: “The Stornoway to Benbecula PSO is a lifeline service and the comhairle’s priority is to continue its operation for as long as budgets allow and there is an operator who is willing and able to run it.

“The awarding of a four-year contract to Hebridean Air Services has taken away the annual worry that this much needed service will be discontinued.”

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