By Kirsty Topping
A HELIPAD at a £184 million hospital has been branded “almost useless” after it was revealed that only a third of emergency flights can land there.
The site at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary is surrounded by trees and a hillside and changes to Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) rules mean that helicopter pilots are not allowed to land there at night.
Instead patients are landed at the city’s airport and taken to the hospital by ambulance – adding as much as an hour to their journey.
Since 2007, the CAA has demanded that any landing pad at a hospital must have two landing and take-off approaches during darkness.
Due to its location, the Edinburgh site has only one and therefore only 34% of flights can land there.
Unions have said it was another example of how the PFI hospiteal was “flawed” and said it was having a negative effect on services.
But NHS Lothian has said that at the time the hospital was built, locating the helipad at the rear of the hospital was the only option.
Unison’s Lothian branch chairman, Tom Waterson, said there should have been more flexibility when the helipad was built by controversial private firm Consort.
“Nothing that emerges about the PFI deal surprises me any more,” he said. “We’ve had so many problems since 1998.”
The helipad has previously caused problems for the healthboard after ambulance drivers complained about speed bumps between it and the hospital, leading to their removal.
The issues came to light after plans for the new Sick Kids hospital were revealed.
The building would have a replacement helipad on its roof.
A document, compiled by commercial property firm Montague Evans, on the new Sick Kids plans states: “The [existing] helipad was located to maximise take-off and landing zones while being clear of any cars, visitors or patients.
“The existence of current adjacent banking and trees prevents night-time flying, the helipad is therefore unusable for significant parts of the 24-hour period.”
Margaret Watt, chairwoman of the Scotland Patients Association, said: “People being airlifted are seriously ill, and the last thing they need is to be taken back to the airport then transported in an ambulance.
“Patients have been left with an almost useless facility.”
George Curley, acting director of facilities at NHS Lothian, said: “The site of our current helipad was considered the best option available at the time of construction.
“A subsequent change to Civil Aviation Authority regulations has meant that we are no longer able to use the helipad during the hours of darkness.”