Claire’s medical mission

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For more than 10 years, Deeside mum-of-four Claire Maitland has been on a mission to ensure residents living in Scotland’s remote and rural communities can access potentially-lifesaving care in the aftermath of an accident or emergency.

She was prompted in her quest by the tragic death of her 14-year-old nephew, Sandy Dickson, from Perthshire, who drowned whilst holidaying at his grandmother’s in rural Ontario, Canada, in 2000.

“His parents were not with him,” said Claire, of Dowalty, Crathes. “They learned of his death from one of those ‘middle of the night’ phone calls which every parent dreads.”

Despite her grief, Claire launched a £1 million bid to stop a similar situation happening to another family. The 51-year-old set up the Sandpiper Trust charity with her sister - Sandy’s mother - Penny Dickson.

“Sudden death in any family causes devastation, more so when there is a child involved, “ said Claire, who has children Harry, 24, Cara, 21, Anna, 20, and Jack, 18. “To witness the pain endured by my sister and brother-in-law, their children and my mother was torture.

“In the months after my nephew’s death, I started to think about his accident and to wonder what would happen if any accident similar to Sandy’s should happen in Scotland. I did my own research and quickly discovered that pre-hospital emergency care in Scotland was a very grey area, mainly because of lack of training and equipment available to doctors in rural areas.”

With guidance from local GPs, Claire made contact with Dr Colville Laird, of BASICS-Scotland (British Association of Immediate Care) in Auchterarder, who was starting up courses in Scotland to train GPs in pre-hospital emergency care. From him, she learnt that there was little training in Scotland, but there was even less equipment available. “The seeds of the Sandpiper Trust were sown,” said Claire, who moved to Banchory from Edinburgh with husband Robin in 2004. “We found ourselves an extremely supportive patron in Gavin Hastings and had Dr Colville Laird and Dr Ewen Mcleod, from Ballater, on board as medical advisors. BASICS-Scotland would provide the training and The Sandpiper Trust would provide the necessary equipment to be able to perform potentially life-saving procedures to victims of accidents and sudden illnesses.”

The Trust aims to provide Scotland’s doctors and nurses with appropriate emergency medical equipment, known as the Sandpiper Bag, which enables lifesaving pre-hospital procedures to be carried out during that critical period known as the ‘golden hour.’ “Ten years on, we have provided over 750 fully equipped Sandpiper Bags, and over 50 vehicle locators,” said Claire. “These are linked through to Scottish Ambulance despatch centres enabling GPs to respond to emergency situations. “The feedback we receive from doctors and from patients who have been treated by Sandpiper doctors can be quite humbling.” As part of fundraising pushes for the Trust, Claire has helped produce two successful books - The Sandpiper Cookbook, which has sold 5,000 copies; and The Swallow, The Owl and The Sandpiper, which sold 7,500 books in a year.

Claire has now had the honour of being involved with designing parts of Aberdeen’s £110m new Emergency Care Centre, due to open next to Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital next year. Together with Trust members, she will lead and co-ordinate the design of the public areas in the new building, including the main foyer, waiting areas and the quiet/counselling rooms.

“I am hugely honoured to be involved with this new state-of-the-art building,” said Claire. “Patients will be in there unexpectedly and it will be a hugely emotional experience. I thought the Sandpiper Trust could get involved and improve the patient experience and also that of the relative.

“We will be working with NHS Grampian to choose colour schemes, artwork and even such basic things as making sure the chairs are comfortable and lighting is good.”