NICOLA Sturgeon has been accused of allowing ambulance response times to ”spiral into a crisis” after admitting that an average turnaround time of six hours is “not acceptable”.
The First Minister responded to pressure from Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross, who used 999 Day, set upto show support for emergency services, to demand answers over the situation.
Mr Ross pointed to reports the “average wait time for an ambulance following a 999 call” is now six hours – but the First Minister stressed the situation has been impacted by the pandemic.
The First Minister stressed that it was “not acceptable” for anyone forced to wait “longer than they should for an ambulance”.
She added: “We know the pressure out ambulance service is under right now because of many of the other pressure on our National Health Service that have been caused and exacerbated in some respects by the pandemic.
But the Scottish Tory leader again stressed that “people are dialing 999, they are asking for an ambulance and on average they are waiting for six hours” – adding “the problems started long before Covid-19″.
He pointed to a Scottish Government report from 2018 that found “only 20% of ambulance crews thought there was enough staff”. Mr Ross added: “A 2019 staff survey showed that demand for ambulance services had increased far beyond available resources.
“And just yesterday, the Unite convenor of the Scottish Ambulance Service, said ‘serious adverse events have been on an upwards trajectory since the start of the year – they have gone through the roof’.
“This all adds up to a service in crisis – well before Covid hit.”
Ms Sturgeon conceded that “there were pressures before Covid” but added: “I don’t think anybody can or should deny that those pressures have been significant exacerbated by Covid.”
The First Minister highlighted “a range of actions” set out in an attempt to improve turnaround times including “296 additional ambulance staff have been recruited as a result of investment that we’ve made available over the last two years”.
Ms Sturgeon said that the response times in the week up to September 5, for “immediately life-threatening calls” was nine minutes, but added this statistic was “slightly higher” than the seven-minute target.
Ms Ross said that “seven minutes for an ambulance to come would be great for those people who are waiting hours, often in agony”.
He added: “When cases are life threatening, ambulances are expected to arrive within seven minutes. That isn’t happening.”
The Scottish Tory leader highlighted a case of Jim from Pitlochry after his 17-year-old son “collapsed by the side of the road”. Mr Ross said: “They called an ambulance when he fell unconscious.
“About 30 minutes later with no ambulance in sight, and with his son’s lips turning blue, he drove him to the nearest hospital but even then he struggled to get medical attention. “Thankfully, a nurse came to the rescue and his son is doing better.
“But Jim wanted me to ask the First Minister these questions – what would have happened if his son had taken a turn for the worse? And if this was a more vulnerable person, would they still be alive?”
Ms Sturgeon said she was “extremely sorry” about the incident, adding: “I don’t think that’s acceptable”.
She added: “We are working hard with the ambulance service to address that. “There is work to be done here but that is exactly why we are making the investment, supporting the recruitment of additional paramedics, additional technicians, to bring these waiting times down again.
“The NHS recovery plan and the investment that supports that recovery plan is so important.”
Mr Ross claimed that the SNP Government “has allowed long-term issues to spiral into a crisis”, warning “the knock-on problems are bringing our NHS to its knees and putting lives at risk”. He added: “It’s only going to get worse this winter.
“People can’t see a GPs in person. They call for an ambulance but it’s delayed for hours. When they reach A&E, waiting times are at their worst levels since records began.”
“But this week’s Programme for Government set out nothing – no new money – for the Scottish Ambulance Service.
Will the First Minister accept this is a crisis and tell us what she’s going to do about it now, before lives are lost?”
The First Minister insisted “the ambulance service is receiving additional money”.
She added: “Most people do understand the exceptionally difficult circumstances that have prevailed over the past 18 months and the difficulties that all governments and all health service are having as we try to recovery.
“That’s why we’re making the investment, that’s why we’ve got the recovery plan and that’s why we’ll continue every single day to support our service and everybody who works in it to recover and get the NHS fully back on track.”