Island communities say transport to and from rural areas must be looked at urgently to prevent more people missing essential hospital appointments.
It comes after comments by NHS Orkney, who say they’re concerned about patient safety following what they say has been an increase in flight cancellations and delays by Loganair.
They’ve written to the flight provider, who say they are committed to serving customers living on the islands.
Laura Knight, NHS Orkney’s chief executive, said: “Over the last few months we’ve seen a real increase in delayed and cancelled flights.
“It’s had a significant impact on our patients. We unfortunately know many of our patients are waiting longer for appointments anyway and when things are cancelled that only adds to the long waiting times.
“It also creates a problem if clinical staff are due to travel up here and don’t arrive on time; then we have to cancel the clinic.
Robbie Miller, 75, has travelled from Kirkwall to Glasgow twice since the summer ahead of his knee operation.
Both times, the great-grandfather faced delays getting back to Orkney.
He told STV News: “We were taken by taxi to Edinburgh from Glasgow after our flight was cancelled, which I was a bit concerned about. But we just had to go along with what was happening.
“I was in seven different wheelchairs during that process, and it was quite painful to get there after my operation.”
In Shetland, the island’s health board say they now send patients to the mainland the day before a morning appointment because of changes to flight timetables.
Loganair, who operate the flight routes for Shetland, Orkney, and The Western Isles, say hospital patients are prioritised when re-booking travel and that they take responsibility for their customers “very seriously”.
They confirmed they have received a letter from NHS Orkney, and say they’ll continue to work with them alongside the other island health boards.
The firm’s chief executive officer, Jonathan Hinkles, said: “Throughout this autumn we’ve had a lot of weather disruption, which has been the single biggest cause of flight disruption this year.
“But we still have a 96% on time rate, 98% when you take out weather factors.
“If there’s a problem on the route, there’s a problem on that route we won’t pass that problem onto another customer by moving things around.”
In South Uist, Catriona Walker’s partner Kevin was supposed to travel to Glasgow from Benbecula for a cardiology appointment in November, but his flight was cancelled.
She said: “At first, you’re worried about your condition but then you get your appointment, so you start to feel better.
“Only then to turn up at the airport where the staff said it was cancelled, then you begin to worry, (thinking) ‘okay now I need to cancel my hotel, will I get my money back, and when will our next hospital appointment be’.
She believes travel on and off the islands, whether it be by ferry or plane, should be looked at urgently by the Scottish Government.
Catriona added: “This needs to be sorted out now, it’s unacceptable not just for those travelling to hospital but this also has a big impact on businesses and everything else on the island too.”
The Scottish Government says issues around transport in rural communities will be looked at.
Next year it’s due to reveal details on The Island Connectivity Plan, which will look at the long-term future of transport on the islands. That will include ferry services, aviation, and fixed links, as well as feedback from island residents.
STV News is now on WhatsApp
Get all the latest news from around the countryFollow STV News
Follow STV News on WhatsApp
Scan the QR code on your mobile device for all the latest news from around the country