HL Deb 27 April 1948 vol 155 cc385-8

2.38 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the question standing on the Order Paper in the name of my noble friend Lord Polwarth.

[The question was as follows:

To ask His Majesty's Government to which islands off the Coast of Great Britain an air ambulance service is available (distinguishing between those already served by a scheduled air service and those not so served):

What number and type of aircraft are available for this service, and where they are based:

What are the arrangements by winch the service can be summoned in case of need:

What number of cases have been evacuated by this means in each of the last three years: and

What extensions of the service are contemplated.]

LORD FAIRFAX OF CAMERON had also given Notice of his intention to put the following question:

To ask His Majesty's Government in what circumstances British European Airways Corporation failed to answer a summons for an air ambulance to convey two patients requiring urgent medical attention from Westray to Kirkwall on 12th and 13th April.


My Lords, with the permission of the noble Lord perhaps I may deal in one reply with the question he has addressed to me on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, and that of which he has given Notice on his own behalf. They deal with different aspects of the same subject. Before proceeding to give the answers to the detailed questions raised by the noble Lords I should explain that the responsibility for the provision of air ambulance services in Scotland at present rests with the county councils, but the Department for Health for Scotland will be assuming this responsibility as from July 5, 1948, when the National Health Service is to come into operation. Neither the Corporations nor I have statutory obligations to provide ambulance services but, as part of the general policy of the Government to develop social services in the public interest, I am taking all possible measures, in co-operation with the Health Departments, to secure and extend the provision by British European Airways of adequate ambulance services to the various islands off the coast of Great Britain. The operation of these services, however, depends on the provision of adequate landing grounds; and here again it is not my responsibility but the responsibility of the Health Departments or local authorities, as the case may be, to provide these facilities.

Air ambulance services are at present available to Islay, Tiree, Barra, Benbecula, Stornoway, Orkneys and Shetlands, South Harris (Northton Beach), North Uist (Sollas), Isle of Man, Scilly Isles, Alderney, Jersey and Guernsey. Consideration, in conjunction with the Department of Health for Scotland, is now being given to the extension of the facility to the islands of Mull, Coll, Colonsay, Fair Isle and Foula. With the exception of one D.H. Dragon, which is based at Inverness and is used primarily for emergency ambulance work, British European Airways use their D.H. Rapides, which can be quickly converted into air ambulances by methods which have been evolved in conjunction with the St. Andrew Ambulance Association. The D.H. Rapides in Scotland are based at Renfrew and Aberdeen and those provided for services off the English coast operate from their normal bases at Speke, Land's End and Jersey. In addition, the Royal Air Force have available two Anson aircraft fitted as air ambulances, one based at Hendon and the other at Kinloss, for the movement of sick Service personnel. They can also be used in emergency to transport civilians, if British European Airways resources should not be available.

Whilst no record is available of the number of cases which have been evacuated from islands off the English coast, the numbers conveyed from the Scottish Islands afford considerable evidence of the effectiveness and steady growth of the services. The figures are: 1945, 94 cases; 1946, 146 cases; 1947, 168 cases. An air ambulance can be summoned by telephone or telegraph by any doctor whose name is included in the approved list supplied to the Corporation by the Department of Health for Scotland, in conjunction with the Scottish county councils concerned. With regard to the particular case mentioned by Lord Fairfax, the dimensions of the air strip at Westray are insufficient for the safe operation of a D.H. Rapide which was the only aircraft available at the time.


My Lords, whilst thanking the noble Lord for his comprehensive reply, I should like to ask him what has happened to the D.H. Dragon which was stationed at Inverness and was removed about a month ago. I understand that it was quite capable of landing at Westray.


The D.H. Dragon was removed for the purpose of being reconditioned and will be replaced.


My Lords, arising out of that answer, will the Minister consider finding out the details of the Australian "Flying Doctor" ambulance scheme, whereby very small aircraft can be used in most parts of Australia to land on ordinary fields and not only on properly prepared landing grounds?


My Lords, if I understand the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, correctly, the Department of Health are responsible for the provision of airfields. If so, can he distinguish between airfields to be used for ambulance services and other airfields.


I will look into the question and let the noble Earl hear from me upon the particular point to which he refers.


May we have it put into the OFFICIAL REPORT so that we can all see it?


I will arrange for a Written Answer to be given.