A good health service is more than just getting seen in time at A&E - Susan Dalgety

Enjoying the last of the summer sun – on the north coast of France, not Porty – I witnessed a tender scene.
An elderly couple enjoy a visit to the beachAn elderly couple enjoy a visit to the beach
An elderly couple enjoy a visit to the beach

A fleet of small ambulances and medical cars were lined up next to the promenade in Granville, waiting for their passengers. One had already arrived, and I watched as three medical staff gently transferred an elderly man from his wheelchair to the back of an ambulance.

He was just one of around 20 old folk, many in wheelchairs, who had spent the afternoon enjoying the seaside. They were clearly on a day out from their care home and no expense had been spared to ensure that they were able to enjoy the fresh sea air.

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When you’re frail, as many of them clearly were, and spend most of your time indoors, it must be joyous to experience a simple pleasure like eating an ice-cream while watching the tide come in.

Back home, volunteers provide a wheelchair service so that people with mobility issues – not just the elderly – can enjoy Portobello beach and the North Berwick seaside.

The group Beach Wheelchairs has been on the go since 2015, helping people enjoy our fantastic coastline. And when I lived in Musselburgh, I often spotted Cycling Without Age in Fisherrow. This charity provides specially adapted ‘trishaws’, ridden by volunteers, to take people out and about for the day.

If we are lucky and live long enough, chances are we will eventually become frail and struggle to do the things that we take for granted – like a walk along Porty prom eating an ice-cream.

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We may even end up in a care home, confined to one room with nothing but our memories of past sunny days to keep us going.

Scotland faces a huge demographic time bomb, with the number of elderly people growing while the number of working age people is projected to drop.

The cost of caring for this booming geriatric generation will be significant, leaving little cash or staff resources for luxuries like a day out at the seaside.

But without something to look forward to, like the wind in your hair or the sound of waves lapping, life becomes tedious, pointless even.

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It’s hard to imagine the Scottish health service being able to provide a small fleet of ambulances so that a group of old folk could go to the beach. And with the Royal College of Emergency Medicine warning that our NHS is heading for an even worse crisis than last winter’s, when 50 Scots a week died unnecessarily, perhaps now is not the time to be dreaming of little luxuries like an outing to the beach.

But a good health service is far more than just getting seen in time at A&E, though that would be welcome. Apparently, Scotland’s NHS abides by five principles across health, social care and social work. They are: dignity and respect; compassion; be included; responsive care; and support and wellbeing.

Letting the sea air lift your spirits offers all five. Every person living in a care home in Edinburgh and Lothians should be prescribed at least one trip to the seaside each year, with a 99 ice-cream thrown in for good measure.

Beach wheelchairs www.beachwheelchairs.org

Cycling Without Age Musselburgh https://cyclingwithoutage.scot