The coastguard search and rescue helicopter team is being utilised in the fight against Covid on the Western Isles.
They are transferring vulnerable Covid patients from Barra to Western Isles Hospital in Stornoway.
A recent coronavirus outbreak on Barra led to more than 50 cases being confirmed there, and more than 150 people self-isolating.
Because of the remote location, the main hospital is on Stornoway, which is more than five hours away and across the sea.
The coastguard helicopter has been utilised by NHS Western Isles to move patients most at risk of becoming seriously ill after contracting the virus.
This ensures they receive the urgent care they need as quickly as possible.
The helicopter is still being used for search and rescues, with January 2021 being the busiest month on record for them since it opened in 2013.
Claire Hughes, coastguard director, said: “Her Majesty’s Coastguard will always be there to support our emergency service partners, wherever and in whichever way we can.
“The Stornoway helicopter is making a huge difference in transferring those patients who need help the most, to ensure that they get the care they require as quickly as possible.
“On the ground, our coastguard rescue teams in Barra, Lochboisdale, Stornoway and Harris are also playing their part, by using coastguard drivers and vehicles to assist in the transportation of completed Covid tests between Barra and Stornoway.
“We are proud of the efforts of the helicopter crew and our staff and volunteers in making a real difference during this difficult and challenging time.”
It’s a privilege for us to be able to contribute to the islands combined response. One big team effort. #WorkingAsOneTeam
The coastguard have also been assisting in delivering vaccines and tests to the more far-flung islands and helping out with the communities there.
Simon Fraser, chief pilot at the helicopter base in Stornoway, is an islander and paid tribute to the role they have played during the pandemic so far.
He said: “All of the crew who have been involved with this aircraft over the past seven years or so take enormous pride in their work and the importance of supporting our local communities with round-the-clock, lifesaving work on the Western Isles and at other coastal locations in Scotland.
“As an islander, I share the same understanding as the rest of the community that the helicopter has a key role to play in so many ways.
“Our team are always committed to serving and helping local people.”
The Western Isles was moved up to Level 4 of Covid restrictions last week due to outbreaks on Barra, Benbecula and at the Western Isles Hospital.
Now, residents there must only leave their homes if it is essential.
Gordon Jamieson, NHS Western Isle’s chief executive, thanked the coastguard for their help as the islands got used to the new restrictions.
He said: “NHS Western Isles owes a huge debt to HM Coastguard service who are key members of our Pandemic Response Group.
“From their search and rescue helicopter team to their ground staff and volunteers, all have been invaluable in the Western Isles’ response to Covid from day one.
“The service continues to provide expertise and valuable support during this pandemic, including assisting us with the delivery of vaccines, assistance at vaccination clinics, and most importantly in the airlift of vulnerable Covid patients from Barra to Stornoway.
“This multi-agency working has been critical and our partners in the coastguard have been willing, enthusiastic and a pleasure to work with.
“We are very grateful to them and thank them for their ongoing support and input.”