The bag that saves lives – carried for 10 years

Dr Howard Kennedy of Newcastleton Health Centre with the 'Sandpiper' bag that enables him to reach patients in remote areas and respond quickley.
Dr Howard Kennedy of Newcastleton Health Centre with the 'Sandpiper' bag that enables him to reach patients in remote areas and respond quickley.

IN an isolated rural spot such as Newcastleton, ambulances can often struggle to reach emergencies, particularly when the weather is bad.

But in a medical emergency, those valuable minutes ticking away from what experts term the ‘golden hour’ – that first hour after someone is injured or suffers some kind of trauma – can mean the difference between life and death.

What has made a difference for country GPs such as Newcastleton’s Dr Howard Kennedy – who are often the first medical specialist available to reach a rural casualty – is a unique kit supplied by The Sandpiper Trust.

As the trust celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, the charity can count among its milestones the many lives it has helped to save and the relief of suffering experienced by those unfortunate enough to be injured or to have a serious illness in rural Scotland.Established in 2001, the trust aims to provide Scotland’s doctors, nurses and paramedics, who have been highly trained in pre-hospital emergency care by the British Association of Immediate Care Scotland (BASICS Scotland), with appropriate emergency medical equipment known as the Sandpiper Bag.

A total of 800 of these bags have been distributed around Scotland together with more than 80 vehicle locators, resulting in a significant improvement to the quality of pre-hospital emergency care in rural communities.

The bag is now the Scottish standard for this purpose and has attracted much international interest. Achievements range from the design of an emergency medical response rucksack for rural practitioners and the provision of the vehicle locators which link responders to emergency control centres, to the adoption of the Sandpiper Bags by the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh for use in diploma and fellowship examinations.

Dr Kennedy has worked as a GP in the Borders for 16 years and has been involved with the use of Sandpiper Bags for the last 10.

He says the bags have proved their worth as far as he is concerned as a country doctor.

“Newcastleton no longer has an ambulance stationed here. The closest is based at Langholm which is 25 minutes away. The next nearest are Annan and Hawick, which are both 40 minutes away.

“But when an emergency like a road traffic accident occurs, in which there is a serious life-threatening injury, it is vital for medical help to get there as fast as possible,” he told TheSouthern this week.

“The Sandpiper Bag has come in extremely useful on occasions when I have attended road traffic accidents, chest pain incidents or home births.

“The difference betwen a Sandpiper Bag and the normal everyday doctor’s bag I carry is that the latter just contains basic items like a stethoscope, blood pressure cuff and items such as those for eye examinations etc.

“But the Sandpiper Bag, which I always have in my car, has such things as equipment for giving fluids intravenously, equipment to assist breathing, equipment to create artificial airways, to give oxygen, various drugs and so on.

“People talk about that golden hour after a serious incident and the Sandpiper Bag means I have all the lifesaving equipment I need to help make the most of that golden hour for the benefit of the injured person.”

Patron Gavin Hastings has been associated with the trust since its inception and says, as a former international rugby player, he knows how important it is to be able to get medical help quickly if needed.

He said: “The design and creation of the Sandpiper Bag has been inspirational. It has enabled lifesaving ‘pre-hospital’ procedures to be carried out during that critical period when in remote and rural parts of Scotland an ambulance may be hours away.

“I derive great satisfaction when I hear reports back from doctors of the lives that have been saved as a direct result of the Sandpiper equipment that they have been given.”

One of the latest initiatives from the trust is a book entitled The Swallow, The Owl and The Sandpiper.

The book offers words of courage, wisdom and spirit and includes a poem contributed by the Queen.

The collection was compiled by Claire Maitland, co-founder of the charity and is dedicated to all who work in the world of pre-hospital emergency care and in A&E departments.

Mr Hastings added: “The future is looking good for the small charity. In these challenging economic times there are many requests for support.

“It is particularly gratifying to see that the profile of The Sandpiper Trust continues to grow through the sale of The Swallow, The Owl and The Sandpiper. It is certainly a wonderful monument to young Sandy Dickson in whose memory the charity was founded.”

For further information on The Sandpiper Trust or to purchase a copy of The Swallow, The Owl and The Sandpiper, visit