Skye mother told to drive ill son to Raigmore Hospital


A mother from north Skye who was panic-stricken to be stuck in traffic with her ill two-year-old son has hit out at NHS Highland for telling her to drive him all the way from Portree to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness.

Karen MacDonald from Digg in Staffin contacted Portree Hospital at 6.30am on Tuesday 24th March because her son Lewis had developed breathing difficulties.

Although there was no doctor present in the hospital until 8am, Ms MacDonald knew there was one who lived 10 minutes away. However, she was told that the doctor could not be contacted before that time.

Ms MacDonald took her son to the hospital and waited, along with her mother Mairi MacDonald, for the doctor to arrive.

“When she arrived at 8.10am the doctor was concerned and said that maybe Lewis should go to Broadford for observation,” she said. “They would keep him in for a few hours and would decide whether to send him to Raigmore. But Broadford said ‘no’.

“The doctor in Portree said she didn’t know why Broadford had said that, so we would have to go to Inverness. She then told us that we’d have to take Lewis ourselves.

“I was worried, and my mum was worried, but we were told by the doctor that it could be a long wait for an ambulance and we’d be quicker taking him ourself.

“I asked ‘does he not need oxygen’ and the doctor replied ‘not now, but maybe by the time you reach Inverness’ — we felt under pressure so we said yes. “We only reached Glen Varragil when we were caught up in heavy traffic. I panicked then because Lewis’s breathing wasn’t good.”

Karen and her son Lewis, at home in Staffin

The MacDonalds did stop at Broadford hospital, where the doctor was “shocked” that they had been told to drive through to Raigmore.

“Paramedics we spoke to in Broadford said it was terrible because very young children have to work hard to breathe and when they get tired they can easily just stop,” Ms MacDonald added. “With no help at hand and possibly no phone signal the consequences could be fatal. It was a very scary time and also with all the conflicting  information makes me worry about what to do next time.”

An ambulance did take Ms Macdonald and her son through to Raigmore later that day.

“Lewis was in and out of hospital with bronchiolitis approximately every six to eight weeks from a few months old until he was 11 months, so this is not new for us,” she said.

“In the past his breathing had to be stabilised on more than one occasion in Portree A&E before it was safe for him to travel on to Raigmore in the ambulance. It doesn’t bear thinking about what might have happened if we had to drive to Broadford with him those times instead of Portree.

“When Lewis was back and fore to A&E in his first year we have always been told by doctors and nurses that we are welcome to go to Portree any time if we had any concerns about Lewis’s breathing — not to hesitate going there even out of hours — so being told not to go there now is a recent change.”

Medical staff in Raigmore suspect that Lewis may have asthma but they will not know for sure until he is older.

A spokesman for NHS Highland said the health authority could not comment on individual cases.

He added: “We would be pleased to arrange a meeting with the family to clinically review the circumstances described. More generally, Raigmore Hospital is the only hospital in Highland that has a paediatric unit and therefore treatment locally tends to be for minor illness or injury and for stabilisation in advance of transfer in more severe cases. Every patient is assessed individually and decisions on mode of transport are taken collectively after discussion with the patient if possible and those accompanying them. In the case of a child, the discussion would usually be with the parents.”