Mountain Rescue deserves better from the First Minister

Mountain Rescue deserves better from the First Minister

by Elizabeth Smith
article from Thursday 8, November, 2018

AS I WRITE THIS, Scottish Mountain Rescue teams across the country are gearing up and preparing for the winter season. This is a time of year where call-outs spike as our hills are transformed into an Alpine wilderness that is both beautiful and dangerous in equal measure. 

Every year, mountain rescue teams are responsible for saving countless lives on our hills. For the most part, this is a service staffed entirely by volunteers. These are the quiet but determined climbers whose collective knowledge and skill is often the thin line between life and death. These are people not prone to speaking out or seeking the limelight. These are people who just get on and do their job. All of this makes their recent open letter bemoaning the current relationship with Police Scotland and the coastguard all the more extraordinary. 

Whilst there are many aspects of this letter to focus on, the crux of the matter is that mountain rescue volunteers feel expendable. According to rescuers, the authorities frequently fail to offer air support to those exiting the mountains or retrieving the deceased. Here we have a situation where volunteers are left carrying dead bodies several thousand feet in what are often treacherous conditions. It doesn’t take much to imagine what could happen if something goes wrong. After all, these rescuers, despite what some might think, are not super heroes. 

In addition to these issues, I am aware of separate reports detailing failures liaising with the newly centralised Police Scotland.  I have heard tales of inexperienced call handlers being asked to co-ordinate rescue efforts despite having neither the knowledge or experience to do so. This is a huge issue. These climbers are good, but they should not be put in danger and the emergency services must realise this. 

As a result, I decided to take this up with Nicola Sturgeon at FMQs, after all, two of her Cabinet Ministers are former Mountain Rescuers. But rather than taking time to engage in what is a pressing issue, the First Minister decided to blame Westminster whilst slapping down what she perceived to be political point scoring.  This is not political point scoring. This is about ensuring a service, which is so critical to safety on the hills, is given the support to continue to make a difference. 

Mountain rescue teams are facing new pressures that have seldom been seen before. The combination of increased call outs, greater costs and harder to navigate bureaucracy is stacking up.  It is clear that change is required, and this should start with way call-outs are handled and air support is triaged.  It is here where I hope both the Scottish Government and the emergency services work together to ensure a service, which has existed since 1965, is able to continue providing lifesaving support.  

Liz Smith (pictured) is a Scottish Conservative MSP and amateur mountaineer who has climbed all 282 of Scotland’s 3000ft peaks. 

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