Family left furious after Calmac ferry leaves island without seriously ill patient – but with family on board

Originally published on November 28, 2011



THE family of a sick 78-year-old woman were left stunned on Saturday after a Calmac sailing left the Isle of Bute in poor weather conditions with the family on board the vessel, but without the patient.

Violet Leitch suffered a fractured hip and after doctors decided she was too fragile to be lifted by helicopter to a mainland hospital for emergency surgery, she was rushed by ambulance to the 1500 sailing from Rothesay to Wemyss Bay.

However, upon arriving at the pier, the family of the woman claim Calmac staff refused to wait for the patient to be transferred onto the ferry.

The woman’s granddaughter, Alix Anderson, said: “The paramedics and shore staff were wildly gesticulating to the onboard crew members who were just pulling in the ropes and shrugging their shoulders.

“I know onboard staff were aware of the ambulance before the ferry was properly underway. We phoned the Rothesay [Calmac] office at 3.04pm to ask why I had just had a frantic phone call from my mum, crying that they were leaving gran behind.

“Their response was that there was nothing they could do as they hadn’t been informed by the hospital but surely everyone could use common sense and if they saw paramedics jumping and waving at them it is probably better to radio the captain to bring the ramp down.”


Calmac Upper Clyde regional manager, Brian Fulton, claimed a miscommunication between the ambulance service and Calmac was at fault: “I have spoken to the captain of MV Bute who tells me that he was unaware of the ambulance until 10 minutes into the crossing. It appears that the ambulance service did not follow correct procedure.

“The ambulance staff asked if the 1500 sailing would be sailing on time given the weather. That was all. They did not say they were definitely travelling on it or that there was an emergency.

“As far as I am aware nobody asked the ferry to wait prior to sailing time.”

However, Mrs Anderson said: “As far as we know the hospital thought they had contacted them, the paramedics had radioed ahead and crew members were fully aware there was an ambulance on the pier before the ferry had left, so to say the hospital was at fault for not properly following procedure is a cop-out.

“This was about someone’s life, not something as inane as a parking ticket. It seems to me that some people used some really poor judgement and are trying to hide behind procedure.”


Recent high winds and poor weather conditions have left Calmac sailings on the Rothesay-Wemyss Bay route liable to disruption, delay and cancellation. Sailings on a Saturday afternoon are now on an hourly schedule and Calmac had issued amber alerts on the route for Saturday 26 November.

“I’m pretty upset and angry about this and I think the family would really like an apology and some answers because of the distress caused,” Mrs Anderson continued. “I think it best that Calmac have a look at this with the hospital as there seems to be some holes in their procedure and it would benefit everyone if they review it so this doesn’t happen again.”

Brian Fulton said the matter would be investigated and lessons would be learned: “I am reviewing procedures in discussion with the hospital and ambulance service to make sure this never happens again. If somebody had phoned to tell us to hold the ferry due to an emergency prior to sailing we would have confirmed this with the hospital and waited.

“In an emergency situation we will always wait but we need to be told. Anything that should have been done better on our part will be taken into account and put in practice for the future.”

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