ISLANDERS on Coll are "being failed" by a lack of nursing cover that has left a single GP responsible for residents round-the-clock.

The island, located west of Mull in the Inner Hebrides, has a population of around 190.

However, nearly 90 per cent of islanders are aged 55 or older.

Coll shares a nursing budget through the Argyll and Bute Health and Social Care Partnership (HSCP) with neighbouring Tiree but has not had its own nurse for more than two years.

It is understood that five separate community nurses were appointed to work on Coll between 2014 and 2018, but last departed the post in October 2018 and has not been replaced.

Tiree, with around 630 residents, currently has four part-time district nurses.

Following fears over the Covid pandemic, Coll's resident GP and the only medic on the island, Dr Celine O'Neil, brought in a retired nurse for support.

Suzanne Cadden began working a few days a week on the island in April but stopped work in October to help out her daughter in Glasgow, who has just had a baby.

Mrs Cadden, who lives on Tiree, will be unable to return to Coll before next year and says she feels the island's care is being neglected.

The 63-year-old said: "On Tiree you've got four part-time district nurses, one full-time practice nurse, and four GPs - although there's only usually one on at a time.

"There's a care home that's fully staffed, there's home carers, there's an ambulance team. There's a whole load of medical staff.

"Coll only has Celine, the GP. They don't have anybody else. She's having to deal with everything on her own which seems really unfair.

"There's a population of 190 there who are not being served properly."

Mrs Cadden said she had seen the GP left in tears by her workload, including nursing a terminally ill patient during the summer when Mrs Cadden was on leave.

"No other nurse was put on so Celine was on her own, doing all the nursing," said Mrs Cadden. "She was out three or four times on the Saturday and three or four times on Sunday, when that's something I - or another nurse if there had been one - should have been attending to.

"If someone else on that island had had a heart attack at that moment, what happens?"

Colin Kennedy, a sheep farmer and one of only five residents born on the island, said he has been left as his 91-year-old mother's full-time carer due to the lack of nursing cover or social care.

Mr Kennedy, 60, whose widowed mother came to live with him in October, said: "We're very short-changed here - there's a lot of people besides my mother needing attention.

"I've been trying for five weeks to get something out of social care but nobody gets back to you.

"My mother is crippled, she's nearly deaf, the optician said she should be registered blind.

"The bottom line is I have my mother here in Coll, she's a poor old soul, and there's not an ounce of help.

"She's fiercely independent but she struggles. She's 91 heading for 92 in January, and it's only going to get worse.

"To my mind, she needs to be in a home and the council paying for it - if they can't provide carers.

"There's a lovely home on Tiree, but here we are on Coll, like a rogue state, getting nothing. We feel badly let down."

Mr Kennedy added that caring for his mother meant he could no longer leave the island to spend time with his partner, who lives in Inverness.

"I used to spend six days a fortnight there to see my other half," said Mr Kennedy.

"I can't do that now, and I won't be able to spend Christmas and New Year in Inverness either.

"It's turned my life upside down."

He added that Dr O'Neil had looked after him for five hours last year, until an air ambulance arrived, after he was found unconscious at his home having developed sepsis.

"I can't praise her highly enough," he said.

"She had me from 5 o'clock until 10 o'clock at night, doing everything she could to keep me alive until she managed to get a helicopter.

"If someone else had taken ill she couldn't have gone to them. She goes above and beyond the call of duty, but she's sold short because we don't have a nurse."

A spokeswoman for Argyll and Bute HSCP said it was "experiencing challenges" in delivering a nursing service for Coll "on a sustainable basis".

She added: "We are therefore actively investigating the delivery of a model of nursing care for the island which will provide a sustainable and consistent level of service for the local community."