Sealed pods to be used in transport of Covid-19 patients from islands

1 April 2020, 17:24

EpiShuttle
IMG_0127 (1). Picture: PA

The Scottish Ambulance Service has two EpiShuttles about to come into use and it expects to have six more by mid-May.

Sealed isolation pods will be used by the ambulance service in Scotland to safely airlift Covid-19 patients.

The new adult-sized incubators, known as EpiShuttles, are currently being tested and are expected to come into use within days.

Scottish Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said the technology will enable safe transport of patients while protecting crew members.

She confirmed the ambulance service will kit out two Loganair twin otter planes with the shuttles, one by Friday and the other within two weeks, which will provide airlifts from islands with appropriate landing facilities.

The Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) said so far eight shuttles have been bought, two of which have been received and are currently being tested.

A further two are expected to arrive on April 17 and four more by mid-May, costing more than £500,000 in total.

Ms Freeman said: “We’ve been working closely with the Scottish Ambulance Service to significantly increase capacity for airlifting patients off the islands and to ensure that any patients from our island communities with Covid-19 can be transported to receive the appropriate healthcare when they need it.

“The first batch of EpiShuttles will be available from this Friday, with plans well under way to increase the number of these single patient isolation pods in the coming weeks.

“EpiShuttles are designed to protect patients and crew from potential infection and safely transport patients on fixed-wing aircraft.

“In the meantime, SAS is working with the RAF who are currently providing cover for transfers off the islands, using three Puma helicopters based at Kinloss which can transfer some patients without EpiShuttles.”

An RAF Puma helicopter
Three RAF Pumas based at Kinloss Barracks, Moray, will be on standby (MoD/PA)

The shuttles are based on a design originally developed to enable the safe transport of highly infectious soldiers on the battlefield, and have been used to treat patients with life-threatening disease such as Ebola.

Scottish Ambulance Service chief executive Pauline Howie said: “The fight against Covid-19 has required the NHS to think differently and to move at pace.

“By adapting our approach and using this latest available technology, we are taking swift action in the best interests of patients and our hardworking staff – whilst increasing our capacity.

“The introduction of EpiShuttles will increase the range of options available to us as a service as we deal with Covid-19 cases, particularly for rural and island communities.”

She thanked ambulance staff for doing a “fantastic” job caring for patients in an “unprecedented situation”.

The service is working with Transport Scotland, Loganair and the RAF to increase the range of transport options available for Covid-19 transfers, with the organisations offering aircraft and staff.

Loganair chief executive Jonathan Hinkles said: “The team effort to make this happen, moving from a concept to an operational solution in just a week, has been absolutely incredible.

“Between the SAS and Loganair teams, the concept, testing and training has all taken place and we’re also grateful for the support from the Civil Aviation Authority in progressing this project.

“Although the circumstances under which all of this work has been undertaken are ones that we’d never have wished to see, I’m heartened that the effort which has gone into this is truly admirable.”

By Press Association

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