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Physio support worker gives children flying chance

14 May 2013 - 2:17pm

Children with severe disabilities living in the remote Western Isles can now fly to the mainland for health appointments, thanks to the generosity of an airline.

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After reading a Frontline article, Donna MacLeod approached Loganair and the airline bought two specialised seats. Photo: NHS Western Isles

In the past, many of them couldn’t travel as they weren’t allowed to sit on a parent’s knees, and could not sit independently in standard plane seats.

Physiotherapy support worker Donna MacLeod read a Frontline article (21 March 2012) about a new specially-adapted flight chair and approached Loganair. The Scotland-based airline has bought two seats, costing £2,500 each.

The TravelChair, which allows children to sit with suitable postural support systems, can be attached to a standard seat.

Arduous journies less likely

‘There are children with complex disabilities throughout the Western Isles who often need to travel to mainland hospitals for specialist appointments,’ Ms MacLeod explained. ‘It is so much more convenient to be able to travel by plane, rather than by road and ferry, which can be a far more arduous journey for families.

‘I was determined to find out more about the chair, and if possible, to ensure a TravelChair was purchased for the benefit of Western Isles children and their parents,’ she said.

Ms MacLeod contacted the design engineer of TravelChair to establish the cost of the products, and possible timescales for ordering. She then contacted Marina Campbell, the Loganair manager based in Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, and Graham Everett, head of service delivery, Loganair Limited, to establish whether a TravelChair could be purchased.

Parents excited

'Both Marina and Graham were very supportive of the idea and could see the benefits of the TravelChair for their customers,' said Ms MacLeod. ‘I also spoke to a number of parents who were very excited to learn of the possibility of this facility being available throughout the islands.’

One TravelChair is based in Glasgow for use for Western Isles clients, and the other is in Aberdeen, for use in other remote and rural areas, including Orkney and Shetland.

Sheila Nicolson, physiotherapy manager, Western Isles Hospital, said: ‘Without this article being in Frontline we wouldn't have been aware of this product, and thanks to Donna’s digging, persuading and contacting people and Loganair, severely disabled children are now able to fly safely.’

Mr Everett said: ‘Donna deserves a great deal of credit for identifying the benefits of the TravelChair, and for bringing the product to our attention.'

An easy decision

Mr Everett added: 'The purchase of these two chairs will allow children from the islands with complex disabilities a faster, convenient and more comfortable option when travelling to mainland hospitals for appointments. In light of this, buying the chairs was an easy decision to make.

‘Many of the children, due to their disabilities, have never been on an aircraft before. The few who have would be required to sit on their parents’ laps, which was only be permitted through dispensation from the Civil Aviation Authority.

'Making these chairs available will also allow them to experience the world of aviation in their own right.’

Person-centred

NHS Western Isles chief executive Gordon Jamieson said: ‘Donna is to be commended for identifying and facilitating the purchase of such important pieces of equipment for families with disabled children; enabling them to travel by air, when they were previously unable to do so.

'This is a person-centred development, progressed in partnership with our partners in Loganair. This is a tremendous achievement and I am delighted that families are already benefiting from the new chairs. I am very grateful to both Donna and Loganair.’

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