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Delivery of chemotherapy drugs to Western Isles under threat as security company threatens to pull the plug

Chemotherapy drugs are scanned at the facility at Dalcross before being placed on a plane and transported to the Western Isles.
Chemotherapy drugs are scanned at the facility at Dalcross before being placed on a plane and transported to the Western Isles.

The delivery of vital chemotherapy medication to the Western Isles is in jeopardy as rising costs and falling revenue is forcing the security screening company to reconsider its position.

Dalcross Logistics, who operate out of Inverness Airport, claim they are finding it nearly impossible for the company to operate as a profitable business.

Each year the security screening firm has to shell out £5,000 to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which it has done since 2014 – but the company feels there should be leeway offered to the operation due to its size and stature.

David Hourston of Dalcross Logistics said: “We want to continue providing this essential service to the Western Isles but, as a small Highland business, we cannot do so at a loss.

“We have two full-time and two-part time CAA-approved cargo screeners – using either x-ray or hand search – and the cost of keeping them current, together with the CAA fee and other costs means that we have to pay around £13,000 per year just to retain the skills and facilities.”

The cost of transporting the chemotherapy drugs weighs in at £88 per shipment, with two shipments on average each week.

Mr Hourston added: “The CAA charge is a significant contributing factor and we have contested it for nearly five years, alas to no avail, pointing out that it ensures Dalcross Logistics doesn’t operate at a profit.

“I am told there is no alternative to flying the chemotherapy drugs from Inverness and completely agree that it is neither practical to send the drugs by surface means or expect patients to come to Raigmore for treatment.”

Alasdair Allan MSP for the Western Isles shares the sentiment of Mr Hourston and is pushing the delivery of chemotherapy drugs to continue to be delivered from Inverness to avoid a retrograde step in care for patients.

Mr Allan said: “It is simply unacceptable that many cancer patients in the Western Isles could potentially lose their ability to receive treatment on-island.

“It seems particularly unfair that the charges levied by the Civil Aviation Authority on security screening operations from Inverness Airport do not seem to take into account the relatively small-scale of the operation there, or the fact that without it vital consignments of drugs, medical items and other essential items could not be delivered.

“The Civil Aviation Authority should put in place a charging regime that ensures a sustainable service to the islands going forward.”

Mr Allan added that NHS Western Isles would be put in an “absolutely impossible situation” if the “essential” service were withdrawn.

An NHS Western Isles spokeswoman confirmed the service is running as normal, but alternative arrangements are being explored.

She added: “Security screening for clinical products transported to NHS Western Isles from Inverness airport is planned to be discontinued.

“Discussions on this matter are ongoing, and NHS Western Isles is exploring possible alternative arrangements to transport those products should the service cease.

The Civil Aviation Authority has been contacted for comment.

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