Reception problems could be life threatening

A VOLUNTARY unit set up to save lives in a Machars village are having their good intentions compromised by the poor quality mobile phone reception in the area.

The Isle of Whithorn First Response Team are all trained by the Scottish Ambulance Service in the use of defibrillators, oxygen therapy and emergency life support techniques that can be vital to a casualty’s chances of survival if an ambulance cannot reach them within eight minutes. But the Vodaphone pagers that the team depend on are useless in some parts of the village and the surrounding area because of reception blackspots.

In the absence of a viable mobile phone signal, the Responders are totally reliant on receiving a muster call from Scottish Ambulance Service headquarters in Paisley via the Vodafone pager network. Vodafone is the only provider of this service. However, even the supposedly more robust pager signal does not reach some areas in the Isle where Responders live, and who will be needed to turn out during the 7pm-7am period of cover. This effectively means that their ability to provide life-saving cover is seriously impaired while an ambulance is despatched and is en route.

A source says that Vodafone have told the Responders that it is not ‘commercially viable’ to improve the mobile phone/pager coverage.

Sue Redman, the secretary of the group told The Galloway Gazette that lives were at risk if the problem was not addressed.

She said: “Vodaphone have been very helpful but we just don’t have a good reception here and it would cost £1,000 to put a mast up.

“It’s a dangerous situation whatever way you look at it, because someone could have an accident and not be able to get in touch with anyone because their mobile doesn’t work.”

Galloway MSP Alex Fergusson said: “This is an issue that I have pursued twice with Vodophone in the past, and it is an issue which needs to be resolved. The Isle of Whithorn’s First Response Team is an exemplar of how a voluntary organisation of this nature should operate, and it is an organisation that I have supported from its earliest days when I donated my £1000 prize as the Parliamentary Weightwatcher of the year with which the unit bought its first defibrillator. The only fly in the ointment is the patchy nature of the reception for the pagers, and it is a great pity that, so far, Vodophone have felt unable to put moral obligation before commercial interest. Lives are quite literally at stake here, and the cost of a mast is not a lot compared to even one life.”

Mid Galloway Councillor Alistair Geddes agreed, saying: “I commend the Isle of Whithorn Community Council for what they are trying to do. These mobile phone companies are making not just millions, but billions of pounds of profits and they should haver a social remit.”

A spokesman for Dumfries and Galloway Council said: “Representatives of the council’s community and customer services are scheduled to meet with the Isle of Whithorn First Responders group on Tuesday, June 7. They have identified quite a number of signal blackspots in the area and working to lobby mobile phone service providers to deliver more coverage in the area.”

Vodafone had not commented on the matter at the time of going to print.

The responders are also short on volunteers so if you are interested in joining this very worthwhile group please contact Sue on 01988 500390.