NHS Western Isles: Statement on the suspension of flights to/from Inverness for a six week period

NHS Western Isles was informed by email at 4.15pm on Friday 3rd March that Loganair would be suspending services from Inverness to Stornoway and Benbecula, from 17th March, for a period of six weeks.

Since the announcement, NHS staff have been working hard to ensure that all steps are taken to minimise, as far as possible, the impact on Western Isles patients. However, it is important to stress that we have limited options as a Health Board when the decision has been taken to suspend a lifeline service. 

An analysis of patient appointments and schedules indicates that around 230 patients, who require to travel to Inverness for medical appointments, could potentially be affected. Health Board staff are working with patients and, where patients are well enough to travel by ferry, we are making alternative arrangements for them. We are asking all patients who require ferry travel for an appointment to book through their local Patient Travel Office. For patients who are unable to attend by ferry, we are working to reschedule appointments. 

Up to an additional 270 patients who were scheduled to attend an appointment on-island with a visiting consultant could potentially also still be affected by the suspension of flights. This includes appointments, for example, in Ophthalmology, Orthotics, ENT and Urology. We have been in ongoing communication with staff on the mainland and where it is possible for consultants to travel to the Western Isles by ferry or to travel from Glasgow, those arrangements are being made. This has meant that we have been able to avoid disruption for around 100 additional patients. We would thank clinical staff and those that arrange appointments for working with us to rearrange as many appointments as possible to minimise the disruption and extended waits. 

In some cases, however, such workarounds have not been not possible, in particular for clinics that were only scheduled for one day. Some patients who were scheduled to attend an appointment on-island are being offered ferry travel to attend an alternative appointment in Raigmore where there is capacity to accommodate this. Patients will be contacted directly if there has been an impact on their scheduled appointment. 

Unfortunately at this stage, there is no capacity in either Glasgow or Edinburgh to accept additional patients from the Western Isles. 

It is of some relief that there will be limited inter-island flights between Benbecula and Stornoway to ensure that patients travelling from Uist to Stornoway on Tuesday for chemotherapy will be unaffected. 

Blood and chemotherapy deliveries are also currently unaffected. 

NHS Western Isles Chief Executive, Gordon Jamieson, said: “With the exception of the pandemic, this action potentially presents us with the most significant disruption to patient services that we have experienced. 

“Whilst there would never be a ‘good’ time for a service reduction, this action has come at the worst possible time when there is already significant pressure on the NHS, which makes it difficult to secure alternative options for patients. 

“Our staff across the service are working with colleagues at NHS Highland to ensure that, where there is an alternative arrangement, that we rapidly put that in place. Whilst there will be a workaround for some patients, we are conscious that some patients will miss important appointments, and we continue to explore all options to avoid, as far as possible, any adverse impact. Patients whose appointments will be affected will be contacted by our staff directly, to discuss individual options. 

“We would offer our apologies to patients for the unprecedented disruption to services that the suspension of flight services will cause for a prolonged period and would reassure everyone that we will continue to work with patients, partners on the mainland and with Scottish Government colleagues to minimise the impact, where we can, for individuals and families.”



NHS Western Isles is asking any patients who have mainland or inter-island medical appointments that require ferry travel to book ferry tickets through your local Patient Travel Office and as soon as you possibly can.

Booking ahead through Patient Travel will ensure (subject to cancellations beyond our control) you a booked foot passenger ticket on the ferry and the greatest chance of a booked vehicle space. Any amendments required will be dealt with by the travel office.

As we approach the spring and summer season, spaces specifically on the sound of Harris route will be at a premium and Patient Travel Offices will be best placed to negotiate any last-minute medical bookings required for NHS appointments.