First Minister calls on military to tackle “unacceptable” ambulance waiting times
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is preparing to call for military assistance after reports of people waiting up to 40 hours for an ambulance.
Tory leader Douglas Ross and Labour leader Anas Sarwar used First Ministers Questions to push Sturgeon on what action her government was taking to address the “crisis” in the Scottish Ambulance Service.
Though she stopped short of admitting the service was in crisis, saying instead that the Covid pandemic had created “crisis conditions for the health service”, the first minister initially said she was considering asking the military for targeted support before saying she was on the verge of finalising that request.
After Sarwar told her she “did not understand the urgency” of the situation, Sturgeon said she would be returning to her office immediately after FMQs to “finalise the request for military assistance”.
It came during a heated debate in which Ross, who cited the case of a 65-year-old man who reportedly died after waiting 40 hours for an ambulance, repeatedly asked the first minister to admit the service is in crisis.
Noting that “whatever someone like me chooses to call it is less important than what we choose to do”, the first minister said the service is currently working at escalation level four, “which is its highest level”.
She said that, in addition to calling for military assistance, the government is looking to bolster the service by recruiting further paramedics and technicians ahead of what is expected to be “the most challenging winter for the health service in any of our lifetimes”.
“I don’t think anyone is underestimating the challenges facing the ambulance service or, by extension, the people across Scotland,” she said.
The first minister also faced questions about a statement made by Health Secretary Humza Yousaf earlier in the week that people should “think twice” before dialling 999.
His comments came after problems with the ambulance service dominated last week’s FMQs after Ross raised several cases of people having to wait several hours after calling for help.
Sturgeon defended Yousaf, saying she had made similar comments herself in her former role as minister for health.
“Where people require intervention from the heath service that would be better coming from parts of the health service other than the ambulance service we should encourage them to do that,” she said.
“When people consider they need an ambulance they should never hesitate in calling an ambulance.”