By Bill Heaney
Health and Social Care Secretary Humza Yousaf says extra shifts and overtime are being employed to assist Scotland’s beleaguered ambulance crews.
He told MSPs this morning: “Through £20 million of investment, we have supported the Scottish Ambulance Service to recruit an additional 296 front-line staff.
“In Fife, for example, that will equate to an additional 442 double-crewed ambulance hours every week. Nationally, the Scottish Ambulance Service, as we all know, is experiencing extraordinary demand, and the national health service faces significant challenge as a result.
“Despite the pressure that coronavirus has brought on our Ambulance Service, which serves some of the most rural areas in the United Kingdom, in 2020-21, crews responded to more than 70 per cent of the highest priority calls in under 10 minutes, and to more than 99 per cent in under 30 minutes.”
However, Tory MSP Murdo Fraser told him: “Constituents were raising concerns with me about the level of ambulance cover, particularly in rural areas, even before the Covid pandemic, and it is clear that the situation is now much more serious, despite the efforts of all ambulance staff.
“This morning’s newspaper headlines make grim reading, with people now dying as a result of ambulance delays. It has become a national crisis. When will the cabinet secretary get a grip on the issue before more lives are needlessly lost?
Humza Yousaf replied: “I agree with Murdo Fraser not just about the scale of the challenge but about the fact that the newspapers—and not just today—make grim reading, as do a number of cases that members have raised.
“He will not get a defence from me of some of those unacceptable waiting times, and the Ambulance Service is also aware of that situation.
“However, I assure Murdo Fraser that no one is sitting on their hands, and that is why we have invested that additional £20 million.
“Ambulance staff, such as paramedics and technicians, have been recruited, including in the north and east regions, and more staff will come on board during the winter months.
Health Secretary Humza Yousaf, Tory Murdo Fraser and LibDem Willie Rennie.
“I plan to come forward on Tuesday with a further parliamentary statement that will give details of the other actions that we are looking to bring forward to help the Ambulance Service in remote and rural areas and right across the country.”
LibDem Willie Rennie told MSPs: “Staff morale is at rock bottom now. Staff are feeling inordinate pressure and, to be frank, this investment comes far too late.
“Murdo Fraser is right—the problems were evident before the pandemic. I need to understand from the cabinet secretary why those decisions about investment and staff recruitment were not made years ago when they should have been.”
Humza Yousaf revealed: “That investment is from years ago; it started 18 months ago, at the very beginning of the pandemic. He seems to be shaking his head, but I am happy to provide him with that detail. We are now beginning to see that recruitment come through the pipeline, because that investment was made a while back.
“Willie Rennie is absolutely right to continue to raise the issue of morale. That is why we have the staff wellbeing hub. I know that Unite the union has raised some issues about morale, and I am more than happy to speak to it, and to take ideas wherever they come from about what more can be done to help morale in the Ambulance Service.
“Staff morale will continue be important and we will continue to invest in the Ambulance Service.”
Later, responding to Health Secretary Humza Yousaf urging Scots to think twice before calling 999 for an ambulance, and warning that the NHS is facing an “extraordinarily difficult winter”, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP, left, said: “Humza Yousaf is proving a reckless Health Secretary. Encouraging people not to seek treatment is a huge gamble.
“Winter pressures come around every year. It is the job of health Secretary to ensure that the NHS has the resources it needs to cope with demand.
“Perhaps if we had a better contact tracing system then the pressure on our NHS would not be so great.
“Many NHS boards are now having to cancel elective operations. The Health Secretary should liaise with them immediately about what support and resources are necessary to turn the tide.”