Ambulance staff work over 3.3 million hours overtime in five years

By Lucy Ashton

Scottish Ambulance Service staff have carried out a total of 3,342,486 hours of paid overtime in the last five years – and over a quarter of a million in the first five months of 2022 alone.

Figures obtained by the Scottish Conservatives via a freedom of information request show SAS staff work an average of around 612,000 paid overtime hours a year.

The news comes after a pay dispute with the Scottish Government led the union Unite to ban ambulance overtime, and the GMB trade announce a 26-hour ambulance worker strike for the end of November.

Since 2017, total yearly ambulance overtime costs have increased by 50% – from around £11.8m in 2017 to £17.5m last year. Total costs have topped £75m over the last five years.

The figures do not include unpaid overtime.

Scottish Conservative Shadow Health Secretary, Dr Sandesh Gulhane, left,  said: “These figures are deeply concerning. Not only do they underline the huge impact overtime bans will have on our vital emergency services, but they also show how reliant we have become on the goodwill of exhausted frontline staff. 

“Ambulance staff are used to unimaginable pressure, but years of SNP failures on workforce planning have left them understaffed, overworked and ultimately brought them to breaking point.

“It’s no wonder paramedics and ambulance workers feel they have no choice but to take industrial action.

“The SNP are already presiding over a crisis in our A&E departments – strikes and overtime bans in our ambulance service could be utterly devastating this winter.

“It’s clear that frontline NHS staff – like the rest of the country – have no faith in Humza Yousaf to give them the vital support and fair working conditions they deserve.

“Humza Yousaf has completely lost the trust of our heroic NHS workers. Nicola Sturgeon must now urgently intervene, sack her incompetent Health Secretary and work to end this damaging dispute, before it’s too late.” 

Alex Cole Hamilton and Humza Yousaf in whom Sturgeon says she has full confidence.

Meanwhile, following the new statistics showing only 65.1% of patients were seen within 4 hours in A&E departments, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader and health spokesperson Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP has criticised the SNP-Green government for allowing this to become the new normal.

Only 54.4% were seen in 4 hours in NHS Forth Valley, only 55.4% in NHS Lanarkshire and only 58.9% in NHS Lothian.  The Royal College of Emergency Medicine has estimated that long waits have contributed to hundreds of avoidable deaths in 2022.

Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “Another week, another onslaught of catastrophically long waits in our A&E departments. The SNP has made these waiting times the new normal and it is unacceptable.

“It is mind-boggling that just yesterday the First Minister declared she had full confidence in her Health Secretary. Everywhere the NHS is in crisis. Everyone knows someone on a waiting list.

“Having voted down and ignored Liberal Democrat calls for a burnout prevention plan and a staff assembly that values their expertise, Humza Yousaf must drop his opposition to an urgent inquiry into the avoidable deaths linked to the crisis in emergency care.

“More of the same from Humza Yousaf will send our NHS into an even deeper crisis.”

Please see below a table of annual total Scottish Ambulance Service overtime costs, hours paid and number of staff paid.

Year Total overtime costs Total overtime hours paid Number of staff paid
2017/18 £11,773,148 592,635 3963
2018/19 £11,991,541 566,829 4050
2019/20 £13,107,892 586,950 4026
2020/21 £15,917,437 680,448 4489
2021/22 £17,580,149 634,064 5311
2022* £7,945,312 281,560 4835
TOTAL: £78,315,479 3,342,486 AVG: 4446

*Figures for April-August 2022

(Scottish Conservative FOI, available on request)

Top picture: Pauline Howie who heads up the Scottish Ambulance Service.

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