CalMac is winning praise from NHS Western Isles for maintaining the lifeline ferry service timings that allow patients to reach hospital in Inverness despite the closure of the air links on which they used to depend.

"NHS Western Isles would like to record its sincere thanks and appreciation to Caledonian MacBrayne for their help and support in establishing a timetable that ensures our patients who require lifesaving treatment on the mainland can continue to do so safely and efficiently," the health authority said this morning (Friday April 24).

NHSWI explained that the current timing of the Stornoway to Ullapool service which has been established (with the ferry leaving Stornoway at 7am and returning from Ullapool at 6.30pm) enables patients to travel on the morning ferry, despite the early start from home, reach Raigmore at a time when the services they need are open, receive their treatment and travel back over to Ullapool just in time to return on the afternoon ferry.

"Patients had been concerned that the loss of the Inverness flight could place their treatments, and therefore their health, at risk but the timings of the CalMac ferry are just right."

It is understood that the chosen timings are less than ideal for the haulage and supply industry which would prefer an earlier service.

NHS Western Isles Chief Executive Gordon Jamieson said: “We would like to pay sincere thanks to CalMac who are literally providing a lifeline and health critical service to the local population.

"More than 50 patients have travelled on the ferry for life-saving treatment in the past four weeks, and the scheduling of the timetable is critical, allowing patients to attend for treatment and return home on the same day. Services on the mainland have been scheduled to suit the current timetable.

“We are aware there has been an approach to CalMac to change the timetable. We would stress that many patients live in the remote parts of the island and to have the ferry depart earlier would make it even more stressful both physically and mentally for them at a time that is already physically and emotionally very challenging.

“A ferry timetable change could also result in some patients having to stay overnight on the mainland if appointments could not be brought forward and, for some of these patients, this may not be possible without being admitted into hospital because of their fragile state of health.”

He added: “I would urge CalMac to retain the current arrangements.”