Divers urged to back reprieve for Oban chamber – Divernet

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Scuba divers are being asked to sign an online petition in hopes of securing the reopening of the hyperbaric chamber at Oban in Argyll.

Its recent closure means that bent divers in the popular region for scuba now face the prospect of having to be taken at least 180 miles east to Aberdeen or 258 miles north to Orkney, the only other NHS-registered chamber in Scotland.

The facility has been treating divers affected by decompression illness (DCI) on Scotland’s West Coast and outer isles since the late 1960s.

More than 4,200 people have signed the petition since it was started on 3 April, 84% of the target of 5,000 signatures – so more input from the diving community could make a difference. 

NHS Grampian, one of Scotland’s 14 regional health boards, allowed its contract with the West Scotland Centre for Diving & Hyperbaric Medicine at Dunstaffnage to expire and withdrew its funding, forcing it to suspend its operations. 

However, the chamber’s managing director, Dr Martin Sayer of Tritonia Scientific, claims that this was done without consultation.

He told the Oban Times: “There has been no communication from NHS Grampian or the National Services Division. We still have no detail as to what changes need to be made in order to lift the suspension, and no dates for the review that they said would take place in April.” 

The two-person hyperbaric chamber for divers at Oban (Tritonia Scientific)
Looking into the Oban chamber (Tritonia Scientific)

Tritonia Scientific has owned and managed the chamber since 2018, and Dr Sayer hopes to secure the support of Argyll MP Brendan O’Hara and MSP Jenni Minto, sharing with them what he says have been many letters of support. 

“We are concerned that this change in how the service is being delivered will cause unnecessary delays to treatment, especially when there is still a perfectly adequate facility in Oban,” he says. “We are, therefore, challenging the decision.”

Worst-case scenario

“The risk factor massively increases the longer a diver with decompression illness is not treated,” Oban-based commercial diver Richard Ross told the Oban Times. “The sooner they get treated, the better. It could mean the difference between being able to walk or being in a wheelchair if it attacks the nervous system. Worst-case scenario, it could end in death.

“Aberdeen is about four hours away by road and there could be incidents along the way that could lead to a longer delay. You could be one or two hours away from land even before getting a diver to the shore.

“Recreational divers would be in danger too. I hear what comes over the VHF radio on the boat. There’s a lot of wrecks here that people want to explore, so they go deeper. They don’t always have the experience.”

More than 400 people have been treated since the Scottish Marine Biological Association set up the Dunstaffnage recompression facility in the late 1960s. The 2m two-person chamber was installed in 1998 to provide standard air-oxygen recompression treatments. 

More than 400 people have been treated in the chamber (Tritonia Scientific)
More than 400 people have been treated in the chamber (Tritonia Scientific)

Lost along with its closure will be the team of five specialist doctors on call to co-ordinate hyperbaric treatments.

“This is disappointing news about an important facility that safeguards the well-being of divers in the western Scotland area,” commented Mary Tetley, CEO of diving governing body the British Sub-Aqua Club.

“We will continue to work with Tritonia regarding the appeal process, and will advise our members how best to support them going forward.”

Tritonia says that in the absence of NHS support for diving-related emergencies on the west coast, divers should contact the Coastguard (999, channel 16) or the on-call hyperbaric consultant on NHS Scotland’s national helpline, 0345 408 6008.

Also on Divernet: London Diving Chamber to close, Insurer withdraws cover for Guernsey divers, ‘Someone will die’ – Portland DCI diver speaks out, Big payout for bent diver – but it took 11 years

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