Scottish Ambulance Service funding 'welcome' but 'not enough'

Unite welcomes extra support for Scottish Ambulance Service but warns it ‘will not be enough’

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Unite Scotland has responded to the announcement by the Scottish Health Secretary, Humza Yousaf, stating that extra investment and resources for the Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) is ‘welcome’ but the trade union fears the measures ‘will not be enough’.

The Health Secretary announced an extra £20million investment into the SAS, which Unite called for. The funding is in addition to the £20million announced by the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, on September 2. The Scottish Government also confirmed that it is progressing driver support in discussion with the Army, and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, which was also demanded by Unite. Unite understands around 90 additional ambulance drivers will be made available to the service.

However, Unite is warning that drafting in the Army or firefighters as drivers ‘will not be enough’ due to the scale of the existing pressures, and the seasonal pressures associated with the winter period on the ambulance and health services. Unite added that it has ‘concerns’ in relation to some of the additional drivers not being medically trained or emergency drivers.

The trade union further highlighted that the recruitment of 591 SAS staff – 296 new positions – is already part of an ongoing Demand and Capacity programme, which factors in staff leaving the ambulance service, and winter contingency plans. The recruitment projection, as part of this programme, is not designed to deal with demand factors associated with the Covid pandemic, and the bed shortages being experienced at major hospitals.

Ten days ago, Unite requested that medically and emergency trained personnel and facilities in the Army be drafted in to assist, along with other armed services including the Royal Air Force, Royal Marines and Navy due to the ‘unprecedented pressures’ on the SAS and NHS.

The trade union repeated its stance that extra capacity through ‘field hospitals’ and other ‘temporary admission’ receiving units for patient handovers is ‘absolutely essential’. Unite warned that unless this happens then it fears the existing pressures inside nation’s hospitals, and outside Accident and Emergency Units will simply continue to build-up.

Today (September 21), the Royal College of Emergency Medicine added to the chorus of concerns claiming that 1,000 extra acute beds are now needed to help alleviate the pressures in hospital emergency departments. Unite has said the announcement by the Health Secretary ‘provides insignificant clarity’ on how all these concerns will be effectively addressed.

The trade union is also questioning if capacity in hospitals already existed then why was this not made available at a far earlier juncture. For these reasons, Unite remains supportive of the idea that the NHS Louisa Jordan at the Scottish Event Campus in Glasgow could be temporarily reopened due to its close proximity to other general hospitals in the city.

In a Daily Record exclusive on September 9, Unite called for a ‘major incident’ status to be declared at all hospitals with Accident and Emergency Units, where turnaround times exceed 30 minutes. The demand was made by Unite to protect the public who have made 999 calls in the community, amid patient safety concerns due to 6 hours service running times.

On average, an ambulance response to a 999 call can take between 55 minutes, and 1 hour and 10 minutes, from call to completion. Ambulances are now missing three 999 calls while located at a hospital waiting for patient handovers. Unite also revealed that it has been made aware of ‘adverse clinical events’ affecting patients across Scotland, and that some patients were having to wait up to 40 hours to receive a hospital bed.

Jamie McNamee, Unite Convenor at the Scottish Ambulance Service, said,“The announcement by the Health Secretary is welcome and there is progress on a number of fronts including extra investment, extra call handers, and support from the Army, and Fire and Rescue services, which Unite urgently requested. However, the reality is that it has been a delayed response, and far more should have been done earlier.”

“Unite has been warning of the unprecedented pressures building up within our ambulance service, and inside and outside our hospitals,” he added. “We demanded that immediate consideration be given to drafting in medically and emergency trained personnel and facilities in our armed services to help.”

“What’s concerning is that the Minister seems to believe providing more ambulance drivers is the solution, but not all these drivers will be medically trained or trained for emergency situations,” McNamee went on to say. “If the Minister is also seriously suggesting that we can simply free-up space inside our hospitals, then it begs the question as to why wasn’t this done before?”

“The outstanding issues therefore remain over a lack of capacity in terms of space inside hospitals, shortage of beds and insufficient levels of staff,” he continued. “It’s now being estimated that 1,000 extra acute beds are needed to help alleviate the pressures in hospital emergency departments.”

“We repeat our warning that if this is to work, then it must include field hospitals and other temporary admission units. This is absolutely essential in our view or we fear the existing problems will simply get worse. The announcement provides insignificant clarity on all these concerns, and winter is coming.”

By Andrew Brady

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