Health Secretary Jeane Freeman – quizzed about local ambulance service.

By Bill Heaney

Ambulance crews should not have to worry about their safety when they go single-handed to call-outs.

They were given this assurance by Health Secretary Jeane Freeman in the Holyrood parliament this week.

Finlay Carson MSP pointed out that over a decade ago, when the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, was health secretary, she warned against single-crew call-outs. She said at the time:

‘The Scottish Government’s policy is clear: traditional accident and emergency ambulances should be double crewed, with at least one member being a paramedic, unless there are exceptional circumstances.’

Mr Carson said this was not happening in some areas, including his own, where in some instances ambulance crews are manned solely by technicians, which potentially puts patients at risk.

He asked: “Is that yet another example of the Scottish National Party Government, even after 11 years in power, failing to deliver on its policy commitments? “

But Jeane Freeman replied: “The fact of the matter is that Scottish ambulances are not routinely single crewed, although there can be exceptional circumstances where that happens.

The percentage of shifts covered by single-crewed ambulances across the country was 2.3 per cent. Those percentages therefore demonstrate the impact of the delivery of that policy not only in Mr Carson’s region but across.

Asked further about paramedics, the Minister said: “The Ambulance Service has an action plan to reduce, wherever possible, instances of single crewing. We are monitoring that through regular update reports.

“However, none of our emergency workers should have to worry about their own safety as they carry out their work. The Emergency Workers (Scotland) Act 2005 includes the imposition of penalties of up to 12 months’ imprisonment or a £10,000 fine, or both, following conviction for offences against ambulance staff.”

Asked about cover for areas in places like Inverclyde and West Dunbartonshire and Argyll when ambulances were away taking patients to the Queen Elizabeth university hospital, Jeane Freeman said: “When ambulances are away from their local area taking patients to hospital, it is important that sufficient resource remains in the area to meet the needs of local communities.

“That matter has been raised with me elsewhere, and I am continuing to discuss with the Scottish Ambulance Service how it is rolling out its testing of change.

“In order to ensure cover, the SAS should backfill, using resources from other stations where appropriate. The SAS also uses tactical deployment points whereby, to ensure that coverage is as wide as possible, ambulances are stationed at specific points throughout the country and not just based at their station.

“However, that and other matters remain the subject of on-going discussion between me and the Scottish Ambulance Service to ensure that the resources that are there—and we have made additional resources available to the SAS—are deployed appropriately to suit both the patient and the geographical demands of our country.”

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