NHS figures prove need for Barra-Benbecula flights




There has been a sharp rise in the number of NHS patients travelling from Barra to Stornoway, contradicting comments made last week by a consultant hired by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.

Tom Matthew of Inverness-based Reference Economic Consultants, who were tasked with canvassing opinion on inter-island air services, told councillors last week that “despite repeated attempts” NHS Western Isles would not provide information on the number of patients travelling to Stornoway.

However, the health board readily supplied the Free Press with those figures when asked. They show that between April and September this year 39 outpatients from Barra had attended the Western Isles Hospital in Stornoway. In 2015 over the same period that number was 22; in 2014 it was 21.

Mr Matthew also maintained that there has been a sharp rise in the number of Barra outpatients travelling to Glasgow. However, figures supplied by NHS Western Isles again contradict this statement. They show that between April and September this year 135 people had travelled from Barra to Glasgow, while in 2015 over the same period that figure was 193. In 2014 it stood at 183.

Since the comhairle axed the Barra-Benbecula air service in 2013 ill and elderly people from Barra have had to travel by ferry to Eriskay and then overland from Eriskay to Benbecula if they need to attend hospital in Stornoway. Last week, the comhairle reinstated five-day flights between Benbecula and Stornoway.

No one from the comhairle was available to clarify Mr Matthew’s comments or give an assurance that the NHS patient figures will be included in the consultants’ final report.