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by Andrew Learmonth
09 September 2021
First Minister admits ambulance waiting times 'unacceptable'

First Minister admits ambulance waiting times 'unacceptable'

Nicola Sturgeon has admitted that Scotland’s ambulance waiting times are “unacceptable”. 

The SNP leader was pushed on the lengthy delays during First Minister’s Questions, with Douglas Ross urging her to accept that the service was in “crisis.”

Reports this morning suggest the average waiting time for patients is around six hours, in part because of slow turnarounds at hospitals. 

Unite Scotland say an ambulance misses three 999 calls while waiting for patient discharges.  

The union has urged the Scottish Ambulance Service to declare a ‘major incident' which would then force other public health bodies to immediately assist.

During question time, Ross said the patients were being subjected to “shocking and unacceptable” delays.

He raised the case of a resident at Abbeyfield, an assisted living complex in Bearsden. They had shown symptoms of a stroke and phoned for an ambulance at 2:30pm. However, they weren't picked up until 4:45am.

He also spoke about Jim from Pitlochry who phoned for an ambulance after his 17-year-old son collapsed by the side of the road. 

“About 30 minutes later, with no ambulance in sight, and with his son's lips turning blue, he drove them to the nearest hospital," Ross told MSPs. "But even then he struggled to get medical attention." 

He added: “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 this still be alive?”

Addressing Jim directly, the First Minister said she was “extremely sorry that the wait that you had happened”.

She added: “And I don't think that's acceptable. I am trying to address these issues, genuinely, because I don't think the cases that Douglas Ross has cited are unacceptable and nothing I've said today suggests that they are.

“We know the reasons for the pressure in the ambulance service, that is a variety of pressures on the national health service and of course some of those pressures were there before Covid but they have been significantly exacerbated.

“We know that our accident and emergencies are under pressure, we know that there's a backlog of treatments,  one of the issues that the ambulance service faces is longer turnaround times which then puts a lot of pressure on ambulance resources.

“I recognise all of this, and we are working hard with the ambulance service to address that. So nothing I have said or am saying is intended to suggest in any way that the kind of waits we've heard about today are acceptable.”

The First Minister said the median response time for the most urgent calls in the most recent week was just over nine minutes, though, she added it should be within seven minutes. 

There was, she said, work to be done. “But that is exactly why we are making the investment, we are supporting the recruitment of additional paramedics, additional technicians to bring these waiting times down again.”

Labour’s Anas Sarwar quizzed Sturgeon on plans to introduce vaccine passports, due to be voted on in Holyrood this afternoon. He suggested she had changed her mind and was ignoring the scientific evidence.

“Scottish Labour will not support these proposals, We have supported the government at key moments throughout this pandemic, but this is about what works and what will make a meaningful difference," he told MSPs.

“The scientific advisory group SAGE, which the Scottish Government's chief medical officer sits on, says that any proposals should consider these three key points. 

“One, isolate those that are infectious from the rest of the population. Vaccine passports won't do that. 

“Two, reduce the likelihood that they enter high risk settings or situations. Vaccine passports won't do that. 

“Three, attempt to decrease the transmission risk from an infectious person in any given environment. And given the high transmissibility of the Delta variant, vaccine passports, won't do that. 

“So can the First Minister tell us what evidence has led her and her ministers to change their minds, disagree with the scientists and now back vaccine passports?”

Sturgeon said the government was acting responsibly. “Firstly, I haven't changed my mind - I've said to this Parliament on the third of August, most recently, before that in April, February, that we were considering the issue of vaccine certification we hadn't ruled out, but we wanted to properly consider all of the issues and that is what we have done.”

Sarwar said there was still little detail on the scheme despite the imminent vote. He said a document published by the government this morning showed no evidence to back the proposals, and no meaningful engagement with the sectors involved, and no public consultation. 

“First Minister, is it not the case that you're rushing through this proposal in parliament in an attempt to look in control of a virus that is clearly out of control?”

Sturgeon said: “I think most people watching this will probably breathe a sigh of relief that Anas Sarwar is not standing here because clever quips might sound good in a student union, but when you're actually trying to deal with a global pandemic it is more important that you have the solutions that help to keep people safe."

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