First official ambulanceman on Arran retires after 38 years

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Neil Gillies of Lamlash ambulance station retires today (Friday) after a lengthy service of 38 years – 32 of which saw him serving the community of Arran, including a secondment with the Air Ambulance Service.

He joined the Scottish Ambulance Service in 1983 after leaving the British Army. He began his career in Kilbirnie working as an ambulanceman – the title of paramedic did not yet exist.

In 1988, he and his wife Anne made the decision to move to Arran for a better quality of life for their young family. At that time, the ambulance service had no employed personnel on the island and so Neil was the first official ambulanceman on Arran.

When the service introduced paramedics into the service, Neil put himself forward for the training and completed his paramedic course in 1992.

Shortly after, he joined the Air Ambulance team based in Prestwick where for six years, he would split his time between working in Lamlash and his helicopter secondment which also served the community.

During his long tenure at the station, he has been involved in many community and multi-agency initiatives and even enjoyed a few years volunteering with the Arran Mountain Rescue Team.

The dad of four has faced many challenges and changes within the ambulance service over the years and can add working through a global pandemic to his list of career achievements. He is exceptionally proud that his daughter Kate has followed in his footsteps and is also a paramedic based at Lamlash. He has three young grandchildren – Robert, Orla and Emily – and he is looking forward to spending time during his retirement with them.

Long-time colleague Emma Campbell paid her own tribute. She said: ‘Neil has been part of the fabric of Lamlash ambulance station for many years.  As a colleague, he was dependable, cheeky and well respected.  Neil just got on with it.

‘He wouldn’t moan if someone hadn’t emptied the bins, done their dishes or not hoovered, he would simply do it for them.  He would often surprise you with some classic one liners, but equally some questionable ones too.  Always keen to share a daily random fact that he had read about and would just drop it into a completely unrelated conversation.

‘He always had a project on the go or a mountain of books to read, when we had our downtime waiting for a call.  He used to wipe the floor with anyone brave enough to play chess with him.  He absolutely lit up when talking about any of his four kids and later when his three grandchildren arrived.

‘You could also rely on Neil to be one of the first names on the “nights out” lists either at the hospital or on station, and he always made sure to keep great ties with the hospital and medical staff on the island.

‘As a colleague he would reflect with you if you needed to talk over tough calls, he would help you put things into perspective.  He has always been pretty good for advice where work was concerned.  If anyone needed a shift swap or a favour, he would always do his very best to accommodate, he would never see anyone stuck.  Even if he was on a day off and you just needed an extra pair of hands at a difficult call, he would come out and help you.  However he didn’t suffer fools gladly and would stand up for what he believed in but rarely raised his voice in the process.’

In 2019 Neil published his first book called All Patients Great and Small, a memoir of sorts, with many tales and confessionals based on ambulance incidents and events, many on Arran, over his long career.

Neil in his younger days when on secondment with the Air Ambulance Service.