First Minister John Swinney has apologised to a Skye woman who thought she was going to die when she was unable to access emergency healthcare in Portree. 

Teacher Eilidh Beaton had a severe allergic reaction on Saturday night and was just yards from the nearby Community Hospital.

However, it is closed at night because of long-running staff shortages. The three available ambulances were all on other calls.

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Ms Beaton was forced to rely on the local lifeboat crew for help.  She said RNLI volunteers gave her oxygen from their boat until an ambulance arrived 45 minutes later.

Friends "banged" on the locked door of the town's hospital to try and get assistance but to no avail, even though there were staff in the building. 

Ms Beaton was attending the Skye Live music festival.

Another woman attending the event, Heather Aird, died after taking unwell. 

In 2018, a review by Dr Sir Lewis Ritchie recommended the out-of-hours service at the facility be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross raised Ms Beaton’s case during First Minister’s Questions.  He asked Mr Swinney if he accepted “this should never be allowed to happen”.

“I agree with Mr Ross, this should never have happened,” the First Minister replied.

He apologised to Ms Beaton and sent condolences to the family and friends of Ms Aird.

He continued: “As Mr Ross will be aware, Portree Hospital is not operating currently as a 24/7 emergency facility.

“Sir Lewis Ritchie recommended some years ago that it should be and it is a matter of deep concern to the Government that that has not happened.

“The Health Secretary spoke to the leadership of NHS Highland yesterday to make it clear that we want that to happen at the earliest possible opportunity.”

The First Minister also shared the “admiration and appreciation” of the Scottish Government to those who helped Ms Beaton.

“We all have admiration for those who stepped in to help but it should never have gotten to that stage,” Mr Ross replied.

Pressed on why the recommendation has not been followed six years after the review, Mr Swinney said there had been a three-year period where the hospital was open overnight.

However, this has since changed because of staffing issues.

The First Minister accepted this was “not good enough”.

The review also said the Scottish Ambulance Service should improve its presence in the area.

“I understand the genuine concern that Mr Ross is expressing to Parliament today and I take that very seriously,” the First Minister said.

Health Secretary Neil Gray, Mr Swinney added, has spoken to NHS Highland leaders to insist those arrangements must be put in place”.

The case, Mr Ross claimed, was emblematic of a “crisis” in rural healthcare across the country.

“There are blackspots across Scotland where urgent treatment is often unavailable, there are sometimes no ambulances if you live in the wrong place, there is a postcode lottery for emergency care,” he said.

“This crisis is costing lives and putting people at risk.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton also pushed the First Minister on Ms Beaton's case.

He told MSPs that lifeboat volunteers had been “hammering on the doors” of the facility while “her boyfriend literally threw rocks at the windows of the hospital”.

The Lib Dem asked: “Why has it take six years, and a near fatality, for this government to finally lift the phone of NHS Highland about emergency care on Skye?”

Mr Swinney reiterated that what had happened at the weekend was “unacceptable.”

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A spokesperson for NHS Highland said it had met local campaigners on the issue in Portree last month and it was “helpful to hear and understand the concerns of community members”.

The spokesperson said: “The new CEO Fiona Davies, and chair, Sarah Compton-Bishop, underlined our commitment to completing the outstanding recommendations of the Sir Lewis Ritchie review, including urgent care provision in north Skye.

“The need for improved communication is fully acknowledged and the launch of the new District Planning Group for Skye, Lochalsh and South West Ross earlier this month will help us to continue to work collaboratively with the local communities.

“We will be liaising with the Scottish Ambulance Service in relation to this incident as part of our investigations and to take forward any learning for both organisations.”