Have you heard of the Sandpiper Trust? If you are a rural GP or nurse in Scotland, you are very likely sitting there thinking ‘yeah, of course’! You probably don’t have to look far in your home/car/work to find a familiar blue Sandpiper Bag – over £2000 worth of emergency life-saving kit brought together into a neat, organised package, ready to go at a moment’s notice.
There are over 1000 such bags in Scotland, mainly in rural and remote areas. They enable rural clinicians to support the Scottish Ambulance Service in providing emergency care when there isn’t an ambulance easily available, or sometimes as there is more than one casualty, or the skills of a doctor are required to augment those of an ambulance paramedic.
One thousand bags. That’s over £2,000,000 (2 million) worth of kit – funded purely from public donations over the last fifteen years. And that’s before considering that responders who are on islands or make themselves trackable by the ambulance service, are provided with even more resource, from EZIO needles and pelvic slings, to defibrillators and technology to plug themselves into the national responder system.
Bags are provided to rural clinicians who have successfully completed the excellent BASICS Scotland courses in emergency care. From advanced paediatric life support, to trauma care, to ongoing teleconference sessions to share best practice… the system works because of this integrated approach between BASICS Scotland – who provide the training and support – and the Sandpiper Trust – who provide the kit and training resources.
What started the Sandpiper Trust?
The Trust was formed shortly after the tragic death of Sandy Dickson in 2000 – at the age of 14 years as a result of a swimming accident in rural Canada. His parents, Penny and Aly asked the question ‘What would have happened if this had occurred in Scotland?’. Penny’s sister Claire and brother-in-law Robin Maitland supported them on a journey that would soon provide rural Scotland with an integrated system of emergency care and resource that has become the envy of many other countries.
Their work has inspired others to provide advice and expertise – such as when Chris Tiso of the outdoor sports company Tisos came across the Mark 1 Sandpiper Bag by chance, and provided his support to enable the Mark 2 Bag to incorporate much improved fabrics, layout and carrying harness.
Who funds the Sandpiper Trust?
The Sandpiper Trust exists entirely on personal donations. If you visit the Sandpiper Trust facebook page, you’ll see a range of budding cyclists, iron men, stall holders, bakers, auctioneers and other inspired volunteers who give their time to fund the Trust’s activities.
Unfortunately the nature of the work that the Sandpiper Trust supports, means that there are often sensitivities in reporting this at the time. Patient confidentiality remains a paramount aspect of healthcare, and so responders have to be careful when highlighting the work that they have carried out at the time. Inevitably, responding to emergencies can result in contact with adversity, tragedy, and changed or lost lives. However, where possible, work is publicised to give Sandpiper supporters an idea of how donations are used.
The Sandpiper Trust is keen to hear from Sandpiper Responders about where their kit has helped. It helps to keep the energy going behind the colossal fundraising efforts behind the scenes.
How does the system work?
I am one of many Sandpiper Responders across Scotland. I offer my situation as a typical example of why the Sandpiper Trust works so well to support us rural GPs in Scotland. On Arran we have one ambulance available at any one time, and it is used for emergency and non-emergency patient transport. It takes two hours to drive round Arran, and our population rises from 5,000 to 25,000 over seasonal periods such as Easter, Summer and Christmas. We see lots of outdoor activity enthusiasts on Arran – cyclists, hillwalkers, paragliders – and like many parts of Scotland, we are seeing our population become more elderly and medically complex.
Our full team of GPs – along with one of our Practice Nurses with expertise in emergency care – are equipped with Sandpiper Kit. Being island responders, we are given extra resources which means typical kit will cost more than £3000 per responder. Three of us are mapped onto the Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) system. I carry an airwave radio and a smartphone that allows me to be tracked wherever my car goes – and to book on and off depending on other commitments.
If SAS require support – if Arran’s only ambulance is busy with another call, if there are multiple casualties, or if the crew have requested medical support – they will contact us by phone or radio, often using the map to see if anyone is closest and available. Failing that, SAS will tend to call our community hospital to see if a response can be co-ordinated from there. BASICS Scotland training includes not only advanced emergency medical care, but considerations about driving safely, providing a ‘sitrep’ back to ambulance control and keeping the initial scene as safe as possible. Our personal protective equipment includes very high quality hi-vis jackets, which are extremely useful for road accidents and incidents in the open.
The job of a SAS call handler is very difficult, and sometimes it’s tricky to decide how urgently someone needs medical attention. There are occasions when we are asked to assist with someone suspected of being very ill or injured, but being the first ‘eyes on scene’ we can further triage the call. Being volunteers – and that emergency calls can take us away from a busy surgery, family life or time off – SAS tend to be careful and respectful on when we are asked to attend emergencies. However, there’s no doubt that there are occasions when our early attendance can help to stand down limited resources – or indeed scale up a response for patients requiring emergency evacuation by helicopter.
Each year, across Scotland, Sandpiper responders attend thousands of calls. These all depend on voluntary time, along with replacement of items which are used or which expire. We continue to receive fantastic support from the Sandpiper Trust, who remain committed to providing us with great quality and often cutting-edge equipment. Sometimes our ambulance colleagues are envious about the quality of the kit we are provided with!
What sort of calls do you attend?
I recently attended my 117th call in the last six years on Arran. Without providing dates or specifics, here’s a look back at my last ten calls:
- sudden heart failure, helicopter evacuation after stabilisation – SAS crew request for assistance
- motorbike crash, thankfully only minor injuries – SAS crew busy with another call
- fall off a ladder, serious injuries, helicopter evacuation from scene – SAS crew request for assistance
- cardiac arrest, unfortunately fatal – ‘dual response’ requested
- cardiac arrest, unfortunately fatal – ‘dual response’ requested
- haematemesis (vomiting blood) – SAS crew busy with another call
- mountain bike crash, teenager with chest and head injuries – SAS crew busy with another call
- unresponsive 2 week old baby – ‘dual response’ requested
- chest pain, suspected heart attack – SAS crew busy with another call
- 35 week old baby with breathing problems – SAS crew delayed response due to location
What about WildCat?
WildCat is an impressive programme to trial a co -ordinated system of response to cardiac arrests in rural Aberdeenshire. Building on the lessons of TOPCAT – a project in Edinburgh which has revolutionised how medics respond to cardiac arrests – WildCat aims to translate those lessons into a useful system for rural areas. It builds on the response already provided by Sandpiper responders, and aims to train folk from much wider backgrounds to get early defibrillation and quality CPR to patients in cardiac arrest. You can read more about WildCat here.
Sounds amazing. Can I help?
Donations are particularly necessary to enable the Sandpiper Trust’s work to continue. You can find out more about how to donate here. If you live in a rural area of Scotland, ask your GP or practice nurse if they have a Sandpiper Bag next time you’re in. If you feel able and inspired to help with local fundraising, your local responders and the Sandpiper Trust will be keen to support you with that.
Over the next few months, we hope to raise awareness about the amount of Sandpiper Kit in rural Scotland. You can post messages to the Sandpiper Trust Facebook Page – and also there will be some twitter activity including the hashtag #spkit.
You can also use the comments section below to chip in your experience of using or benefitting from Sandpiper-funded equipment.