Please send me SCA's fortnightly briefing:

< Back to '28th February 2024' briefing

February 26, 2024

Community first to respond

One doesn’t have to stray far from the central belt to appreciate that reasonable access to mainstream public services can rarely be taken for granted. It is why so many communities have had to take it upon themselves to step up and fill those gaps in service provision – or simply do without. But where the service can literally be a matter of life and death, doing without isn’t really an option. With only two ambulances for the whole of Uist, a community based first responder service was desperately needed. Years in the planning, it’s now ready to respond.


Eve McLachlan, P&J

The Uist First Responders were officially welcomed into service by the Scottish Ambulance Service this week.

It is a team that’s been years in the making.

The chief executive of the Scottish Ambulance Service has said that he is “delighted” by the establishment of Uist First Responders, a new first responders group in the Western Isles island community.

“Our Community First Responders play a vital role in their communities, starting treatment while an ambulance is on route as every second counts,” Michael Dickson said.

They’re especially vital in rural areas like the Western Isles, says local paramedic Claire Bagley.

“There are two ambulances in Uist, and they could be on the other side of the island when another emergency comes in,” she says.

Add in Uist’s wild weather, which can make travel difficult, and it’s clear how important the Uist First Responders are.

“The group really is a fantastic asset,” she says.

Getting the group up and running has been its own challenge.

“There was a previous unit in Uist – the North Uist first responders – from 2008 to 2016,” Ms Bagley says. “Then unfortunately numbers dropped and we struggled to get someone over [from off-island] for training.

“We have probably spent the last four or five years trying to make this happen again,” she says.

Problems caused by Covid, as well as the practical difficulties of bringing trainers over, made things difficult. But the community didn’t give up.

“We had a high number of people who wanted to volunteer,” Ms Bagley says.

Eventually, “two trainers were able to come over last September to do four full days of training over two weekends.”

The volunteers came to the training with very different levels of experience.

“Some of the volunteers had never done first aid before, some had done first aid as a part of work, two were old responders from the North Uist group and we have an ex-nurse too, as well as a ambulance technician.”

But all of them will help save lives.

Their training means they can operate an automated external defibrillator (AED), perform CPR, and use the FAST test to quickly diagnose a stroke, all in the vital minutes before an ambulance can arrive.

The volunteers can also “take observations like respiratory rate, pulse rate, blood pressure and temperature”, Ms Bagley says.

But it wasn’t just the volunteers themselves that have made Uist First Responders a reality.

“Local businesses from across Uist came together to help to fund the CFR kit bags, which include an AED,” says Ms Bagley. “We’ve also had an amazing response from the community who have also been fundraising.”

She hopes that the team will continue to grow.

“We are hoping to hold another training event this year and already have around nine more people wanting to volunteers,” she says.

“Anyone else that would like to volunteer can contact us via our Facebook page or email address.”