News: Delivering NHS supplies to remote regions

Published: 14 May 2020

News: Delivering NHS supplies to remote regions

Civil Air Patrol co-ordinator Tony Cowan (CF 2009) is helping an operation to deliver NHS supplies to the UK’s most remote regions by small plane.

“In response to the current crisis, the UK Civil Air Patrol has formed a ‘pony express’ NHS delivery service, to transport time-critical medicines, test samples and small items of equipment very quickly by air” - Tony Cowan, Fellow

On 28 April, the first ‘pony express’ delivered Covid-19 testing kits to the Outer Hebrides off western Scotland. The flight, by a twin engine aircraft with an experienced pilot, distributed NHS medical supplies to the islands of Lewis and Harris, Benbecula and Barra. Following the successful delivery, a second flight delivered more supplies to Benbecula and Lewis and Harris on 3 May.

The operation was a result of a partnership between the UK Civil Air Patrol, NHS Western Isles and a voluntary organisation, the British Blood Bikers. The partnership co-ordinates delivery of supplies to airfields and then onto the islands. The use of a single-pilot plane means that the operation works well under current social distancing measures.

UK Civil Air Patrol Gulfstream GA-7, G-GOTC, on the landing ground at North Bay, also called Cockle Strand, on the island of Barra in the Outer Hebrides on 28 April. This is the only tidal airfield in the world, with aircraft movements permitted when the tide is out. 

This is one example of several such flights now taking place across the UK. The UK Civil Air Patrol (UKCAP) is an air support charity that uses volunteer pilots and crews to help emergency services and first responders across the UK in times of need. Churchill Fellow Tony Cowan has been crucial to the charity’s development. As Chairman of the UKCAP in 2009, he undertook a Fellowship project entitled ‘Development of the UK Civil Air Patrol’, spending four weeks in the USA learning from the US Civil Air Patrol, the US Coast Guard and the US Department of Justice. His Fellowship findings are central to the work the UKCAP is doing now in planning, coordinating, adapting and responding quickly and safely to the Covid-19 emergency.

Tony said, “The Covid-19 pandemic has drawn many frontline services and voluntary sector organisations together to fight a common enemy, the coronavirus. The UK Civil Air Patrol is very pleased to be supporting the NHS with a fast air transport service during this national emergency.”

NHS Western Isles Chief Executive Gordon Jamieson said, “As we face the unprecedented challenge of Covid-19, we have had to rapidly develop and implement new ways of working. UKCAP is another fine example of one of the many organisations and individuals stepping forward to assist us in managing and defeating this virus. We have a long way to go, and will face new challenges along the way. It is reassuring to know we have the support and input from UKCAP. I thank them on behalf of our communities in the Western Isles.”

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