Row over changes to ambulance provision deepens

A row has erupted between politicians and ambulance chiefs after claims that mooted “dangerous” cuts to provision are “inaccurate”.

Labor’s Shadow Health Minister Paul O’Kane blasted changes to ambulance cover in areas including Renfrewshire as “baffling” and “dangerous”.

The MSP said that staff rotas have been changed and crews removed so that there are “fewer ambulances at key times across Scotland, including areas from Prestonpans to Glasgow and from Cumbernauld to Vale of Leven”.

It comes as the Scottish Ambulance Service’s controversial Demand and Capacity Review continues to cause ructions.

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We told in January how unrest was brewing over the resulting plan to drop one crew from overnight cover in Renfrewshire from Monday to Friday.

A whistleblower told the Express that workers are “incensed” over the plan as three crews available at Paisley’s ambulance base face being cut to two between 10pm and 6am on weekdays from April.

There are currently three Paisley-based crews operational between 7pm and 7am.

This will be cut under the plans although three-strong provision will remain from midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.

Changes come in the wake of the Demand and Capacity Review carried out by a private contractor on behalf of the Scottish Ambulance Service.

We told how one disgruntled worker slammed the move, saying: “Paisley currently have three ambulance crews at night. The SAS are reducing this to two ambulances at night and increasing cover during the day.

“A cardiac arrest is responded to by two ambulance crews, a road traffic collision is normally attended by two crews plus obese patients, difficult extractions etc. often require two ambulance crews to convey patient from home into an ambulance.

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“Does this sound safe?”

The whistleblower added: “Crews in all stations are incensed by this review as management are simply not listening to our concerns.

“This is a dangerous reduction in night time cover, we are all concerned for the welfare and safety of staff, family and friends living in these areas.”

Now West Scotland MSP Paul has hit out saying the cuts, saying there are reports across the country that fewer ambulances are available at key times despite what he calls “soaring ambulance turnaround times”.

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We also revealed last week how figures uncovered by a Freedom of Information request for the period between October 1 last year and January 31 this year showed that an ambulance crew had been detained for almost 11 hours waiting to hand over a patient at Paisley’s hard-pressed Royal Alexandra Hospital.

Now the politician has raised fresh fears over the service review, saying: “It is baffling that these dangerous cuts are being planned and they must not happen.

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“Making these cuts would suggest that the ambulance service isn’t facing pressure, but we know that’s precisely the opposite of what’s going on –ambulance services are in disarray and ambulance staff are facing overwhelming workloads.”

Mr O’Kane added: “These cuts would see communities left with a weakened ambulance service and as a result would be risking lives.

Ambulances at A&E on the grounds of the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley

“Throughout the winter period we’ve repeatedly been told that people have died while waiting on ambulances – to think now is the time to make these cuts is ludicrous.

“Paramedics are telling us that these changes are wrong and potentially dangerous – something the Scottish Government should already know. The Health Secretary has to realize that now is the time to act before more lives are lost.”

But the Scottish Ambulance Service hit back, refuting the claims.

A spokesperson said: “Suggestions that there are cuts in services are completely inaccurate. There are no cuts staffing in the West region and in Prestonpans.

“As part of an additional 566 staff being recruited and trained across Scotland, these areas are receiving additional investment and increased ambulance A&E services through our ongoing Demand and Capacity programme. Any proposed changes around shift rosters are to ensure that we increase ambulance availability at identified times where demand is highest, to reduce delays to patients and to minimize staff fatigue.”

South Scotland MSP Martin Whitfield told parliament in December last year how worried ambulance staff from Prestonpans in East Lothian had approached him over the rollout of the Demand and Capacity Review, saying: “The result in Prestonpans will be a reduction in ambulance cover to the public and a change in shift patterns, all because of a review whose findings are disputed.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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