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Bends concerns as Oban pot forced to close


No longer available to divers - the Oban hyperbaric chamber (Tritonia Scientific)
No longer available to divers - the Oban hyperbaric chamber (Tritonia Scientific)

NHS Grampian, one of Scotland’s 14 regional health boards, has withdrawn funding from the hyperbaric chamber at diving hotspot Oban in Argyll, which for more than 50 years had treated scuba divers affected by decompression illness across the West Coast and outer isles.

The West Scotland Centre for Diving & Hyperbaric Medicine, owned and managed by Tritonia Scientific, was one of only three NHS-registered recompression facilities in Scotland. 

Its website now carries the notice: “Our recompression chamber is not currently operational”, with the closure leaving sick divers with the prospect of having to be flown 180 miles east to Aberdeen, north to Orkney (258 miles) or south to Liverpool (313 miles) for emergency treatment.

Bends concerns: The chamber at Oban (Tritonia Scientific)
The chamber at Oban (Tritonia Scientific)

When NHS Grampian decided not to renew the current contract, it says it put in place plans to transfer patients to its main centre in Aberdeen, though Tritonia managing director Dr Martin Sayer claims that the decision was made without consultation.

“We are concerned that this change in how the service is being delivered will cause unnecessary delays to treatment, especially when there is still a perfectly adequate facility in Oban,” he says. “We are, therefore, challenging the decision.”

400 treated

More than 400 people have been treated since the Scottish Marine Biological Association set up the recompression facility in the late 1960s – initially to support its own diving operations but, from the early 1970s, also providing emergency cover for decompression incidents in the region. A founder-member of the British Hyperbaric Association, it has been owned by Tritonia since 2018.

The 2m two-person chamber was installed at Dunstaffnage Marine Laboratories in 1998 to provide standard air-oxygen recompression treatments. Lost along with its closure is the team of five specialist doctors who had been on call to co-ordinate hyperbaric treatments.

“This is disappointing news about an important facility that safeguards the well-being of divers in the western Scotland area,” said Mary Tetley, CEO of diving governing body the British Sub-Aqua Club. “We will continue to work with Tritonia regarding the appeal process, and will advise our members how best to support them going forward.”

With no NHS support for diving-related emergencies on the west coast, Tritonia says that divers should contact the Coastguard (999, channel 16) or the on-call hyperbaric consultant on NHS Scotland’s national helpline, 0345 408 6008.

Also read: Behind the scenes of the Midlands Diving Chamber, Sad day as London Diving Chamber closes, Chamber Diaries: Road to DCI & PFO Recovery, Dive into the World of Midlands Diving Chamber: Debunking DCI Myths

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