Three weeks after Army help in England and Wales was announced, BBC Reporting Scotland ‘went big’ on Wednesday evening on the role of a military (RAF) helicopter transporting an individual with Covid-19 symptoms from Arran to hospital in Kilmarnock.  Well done to all involved  – and let’s hope the individual recovers soon.

However, the notable profile BBC Scotland gave to this one military intervention led me to wonder: is this an exceptional kind of mission; is the facility to conduct such a mission a rare  resource in Scotland?

From a bit of online research it appears that we have a substantial, constant baseline of air support in Scotland for medical emergency transfers outside of any military facilities, temporarily available or otherwise.  

Scottish Ambulance Service – air ambulance:  two helicopters (based in Glasgow and Inverness) and two fixed wing planes (based in Aberdeen and Glasgow) all fully funded by NHS Scotland

In year 2017-18 the air ambulance service flew 3,721 missions in Scotland.


Scotland’s Charity Air Ambulance (SCAA) – one helicopter (based in Perth), with fundraising underway for a second aircraft.  Funded public by public donations.

On average, SCAA respond to one time-critical emergency call out every single day.

Scotland’s Emergency Medical Retrieval Service – funded by NHS Scotland, the Service is provided by 27 (9 whole time equivalent) retrieval consultants, six retrieval practitioners and two registrars. 

The service undertakes 1,000 retrieval missions per year.


In 2011, the Tories decided to privatise the UKs search and rescue helicopter services. It replaced the joint capability formerly provided by the Royal Air Force (RAF), Royal Navy (RN), and Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA). They let a contract worth £1.6 billion for the whole of the UK with Bristow Helicopters Ltd.

This arrangement was reviewed (positively) in 2019 (the Capping Report).


“Support to UK Medical Services: UKSARH (UK Search and Rescue Helicopters) has supplemented Air Ambulance and Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS) during periods when dedicated capabilities were unavailable. Moreover, the UKSARH forms an essential part of NHS provision in remote areas of the UK, such as the Shetland and Orkney Islands, and is able to undertake medical transfers in weather conditions which prevent smaller Air Ambulances from operating.” In Scotland, the helicopters are based at Prestwick, Inverness, Sumburgh and Stornaway.

Perhaps BBC Scotland will find an interest sometime in telling its audience about those that do the same kind of thing profiled in its military story, day in day out!