Following a recent inspection Guernsey’s Hyperbaric Recompression Chamber has stopped operating. The Chamber which is over 40 years old, is run by St John Ambulance & Rescue Service, solely funded by public donations and located at the Ambulance Station on the outskirts of Guernsey’s main town, St Peter Port.
The Chief Officer of St John Ambulance & Rescue Service, Jon Beausire said “It is unfortunate but necessary that our Recompression Chamber has had to stop operating whilst a decision is made on its future. I would reassure all those who dive around the Bailiwick of Guernsey that our contingency plan to use the closest recompression chamber 22 miles away on the larger Channel Island of Jersey is effective. In the event of a diving accident people should still call 999 or 112 for an ambulance, or if at sea call Guernsey Coastguard by marine radio on Channel 16. Depending on their location we will respond with either the St John marine ambulance, inshore rescue boat or an emergency ambulance. Once the diver is assessed and stabilised if they require treatment in a recompression chamber we will make the necessary arrangements for the short transfer to Jersey by air or sea”.
It is one of only 16 other Recompression Chambers in the British Isles which are registered with the British Hyperbaric Association and is used for the treatment of divers suffering with Decompression Sickness.
Decompression Sickness also known as the bends or caisson disease is a condition arising from gas bubbles forming inside the body on depressurisation following underwater diving. This can produce many symptoms, and its effects may vary from joint pain to paralysis. The illness is not a common event and over the years with the advent of safer diving techniques the number of divers treated in Guernsey has reduced to around 3 a year. Nowadays the focus has shifted to preventing the condition with divers using small computers to set limits on their exposure to pressure and particularly their ascent speed when returning to the surface.
St John is considering various options for the future of the recompression chamber which due to its specialised nature and the small numbers of its type may take some time. Consideration is also being given to whether St John is the most suitable provider and location for a future facility, as Guernsey is the only place in which a chamber is provided as part of an ambulance and rescue service.
St John is using a well established contingency whilst the chamber remains out of action and on the rare occasion in which a diver requires treatment they will be transferred to the nearest facility in Jersey. This is an arrangement which has been in place for many years during times when the Guernsey chamber has been closed for regular maintenance. In the event of the Jersey Chamber also being temporarily off-line the contingency will be to use a facility in Plymouth.
Chief Officer of St John would like to advise divers, “As always at this time of the year with the summer approaching we would advise all underwater divers to pay particular attention to their safety and to carefully observe the decompression calculations and ascent rates, to prevent decompression sickness.”