New figures have shown that the number of patients canceling ambulance calls because they have made their own way to hospital has increased by 670 per cent.
A freedom of information request by the Scottish Liberal Democrats found the number of cancellations because patients sourced their own transport rose from 753 in the 2016-17 financial year to 5,796 in 2021-22.
The number of incidents where an ambulance arrived to find the patient had made their own way to hospital also rose, from 405 to 2,330 – a 475 per cent increase, during the same time period.
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said it is not clear if the decision to attend hospital without an ambulance was “a preference or a necessity”, as he called on Health Secretary Humza Yousaf to provide move funding for emergency care.
Accident and emergency departments in Scotland have been under strain in recent months, repeatedly recording the worst waiting time figures on record, while the ambulance service has also been under well-documented pressure due to increased demand.
Cole-Hamilton said: “People want to know that when they call the emergency services there is an ambulance available should they or their family need it.
“These figures suggest that more and more people may be having to take themselves to the hospital because emergency care simply isn’t there.
“While we can only hope those thousands of patients had only very minor injuries that required very little assistance, we do not know if the choice to make their own way to the hospital was merely a preference or a necessity.
“If thousands of people are having to take a taxi to the A&E rather than wait at home in pain for an ambulance that may or may not come then that is an indictment of the SNP’s handling of emergency care.
“The Royal College of Emergency Medicine has suggested that waits for emergency care may have led to hundreds of unnecessary deaths.
“The Health Secretary must step up his game and provide new funds. The SNP should focus their energy and resources on helping the ambulance service provide the best possible service rather than another divisive referendum.”
The figures also reveal a stark drop in the number of incidents attended by ambulance crews where their service was deemed not to be required.
In 2016-17, 34,776 calls were made where an ambulance was not required but where the caller was credited with having “good intent”, compared to just 5,635 last year.
A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “The Scottish Government is fully committed to ensuring the Scottish Ambulance Service has the resources and skilled staff in place to continue to deliver a high quality emergency health service.
“Despite many challenges – especially during the pandemic – including serving some of the most rural areas in the UK, in 2020/21 our ambulance crews responded to over 70% of their highest priority calls in under 10 minutes and over 99 per cent in under 30 minutes.Patients with serious and urgent conditions will always be prioritized.
“Increased Scottish Government investment has seen record recruitment of 540 additional ambulance staff in 2021/22, as well as increases in staff at hospital sites and in control rooms.
“This will ensure the service is working as efficiently as possible and has the resources to meet both current and projected future demand.
“We are clear that patient safety must remain our number one priority.”
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