By Bill Heaney

Scottish Labour MSPs have asked for confirmation of reports of an increase in turnaround times for ambulances offloading patients at accident and emergency departments. 

A contrite John Swinney, the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery, has told parliament that the Scottish Government recently announced a package of support for the Scottish Ambulance Service, backed by an additional £20 million.

And that this would  help increase capacity and improve response and turnaround times and staff wellbeing.

He said: “It includes the recruitment of additional hospital ambulance liaison officers, who provide targeted support to ambulances at our busiest A and E departments to reduce turnaround times.

“We are working with health boards to reduce handover times within A and E departments by putting in place a range of measures, including decompressing the A and E department by focusing on flow, implementing Scottish Ambulance Service arrival screens and opening additional capacity for ambulances to safely and timeously offload patients.

“That will support our improvement journey and aim of preventing ambulances being delayed at A and E departments.”

However,  Labour MSP Paul O’Kane persisted: “I have statistics from the Scottish Ambulance Service showing that turnaround times in A and E departments have been increasing going back to 2014.

“In my region, ambulance turnaround times at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley have doubled from 22 minutes in 2014 to 43 minutes in 2021. That is simply unacceptable.

“Those statistics clearly demonstrate that the crisis in ambulance wait times began well before the pandemic; they were growing year on year.

“In answer to Anas Sarwar, the Deputy First Minister would not commit to the maximum 30-minute turnaround time called for by ambulance staff.

“Will he therefore tell the chamber what he thinks is an acceptable turnaround time for ambulances at A and E? When will he listen to staff and get a grip of this crisis?”

Mr Swinney told him: “One of the important investments that we have made is the investment in the hospital ambulance liaison officer service.

“It has proven to be effective in improving the turnaround of patients who have been brought to hospital by ambulances in a number of parts of the country.

“We are also expanding the capacity of the Scottish Ambulance Service through the investment that we have made.

“The Government is taking those practical steps, in discussion with staff, to ensure that we have in place steps to ensure that people are supported when they need access to ambulance services and that they do not spend any longer in the ambulance than they require to.

“Obviously, that will vary depending on the condition and circumstances of individual patients as they arrive and are presented to hospital. I trust and rely on the clinical judgments that are made by staff in the national health service to ensure that patients get the treatment and care that they require.”

Tory MSP Sandesh Gulhane asked Mr Swinney if he would “accept that the plans that he has put in place are not working, and look to improve and make tangible differences to ambulance turnaround times right now?

But John Swinney, left, told her: “The investment has been made. We are seeing an expansion in the number of staff and personnel working in the Scottish Ambulance Service. We are also seeing recruitment of individuals that is designed to support the flow of patients from ambulances into accident and emergency departments and on, either to destinations in the hospital or to a return home.

“I would have thought that Dr Gulhane would accept that this is a whole-systems issue. It involves the roles and responsibilities of general practitioners, social care, hospitals and accident and emergency departments, as well as delayed discharges.

“The Government is taking sustained action in a number of areas to ensure that we deal with that in the context of a national health service that is under colossal pressure because of the impact of the pandemic. We are working our way through those challenges to ensure that we meet the needs of patients in all circumstances.”

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