Paramedics

Question Time — Scottish Executive — General Questions – in the Scottish Parliament at 11:41 am on 9th March 2006.

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Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party 11:41 am, 9th March 2006

To ask the Scottish Executive what discussions it has had with the Scottish Ambulance Service regarding the working hours of paramedics. (S2O-9181)

Photo of Andy Kerr Andy Kerr Labour

Officials in the Scottish Executive Health Department have met the Scottish Ambulance Service on a number of occasions in recent years to discuss the working hours of paramedics.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

The minister may be aware of the concern that is being expressed by ambulance workers at rural stations in Grampian, and nationally, about on-call working. Some shifts extend to 106 hours, leaving ambulance staff exhausted and leading to what staff have called antiquated and dangerous conditions. Given the potential risk to patients, will the minister investigate seriously the concerns, which are shared by all of us in the chamber with the ambulance workers? One of my constituents, who on 13 February e-mailed the minister in detail about the concerns, is still awaiting a reply. Will the minister give an assurance that he will personally investigate that serious issue?

Photo of Andy Kerr Andy Kerr Labour

The member can rest assured that I will investigate that serious issue. I have had discussions not only with paramedic trainees and ambulance crew trainees but with the management of our ambulance service. We need to bear in mind that while the ambulance station at Edinburgh north receives 70 calls a day, the Kinlochbervie and Bettyhill stations receive 100 calls per annum. The ambulance service has a large population area to cover. We can also reflect on the fact that action that has been taken to date has reduced the number of staff working under such arrangements from 640 to 420 since 2003-04, which suggests that significant action is being taken.

Of course, we want always to do more. Where stations are most under pressure, we are trying to deal with the issues. Some stations, such as Dunoon, Fraserburgh and Stranraer, have gone from part-time to full-time. Other stations are doing more joint working in order to ensure better rotas.

However, the substantial point remains about clinical safety and safety for patients. We are open and honest in our recognition that a degree of on-call working will have to remain in our health service in order that the service can cover the geography of Scotland. However, the average for any on-call ambulance crew working in Scotland is 38 calls per annum. We need to understand the context. Nonetheless, I do not seek to underestimate the concern that is being expressed by Richard Lochhead.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

Does the minister recognise the effect that the rationalisation of accident and emergency services will have on the ambulance service? In South Ayrshire, if the Ayr hospital accident and emergency service was transferred to Crosshouse, it is estimated that 35 per cent would be added to paramedic-hours requirements. What guarantees will the minister give on that issue?

Photo of Andy Kerr Andy Kerr Labour

I must be cautious—I do not intend to go into specifics about consultations that are going on around Scotland. However, integral to any reconfiguration of the health service in Scotland is the inclusion of the Scottish Ambulance Service, to ensure that the implications of such reconfiguration are taken into account by the professionals who provide that service.

I remind Phil Gallie that, at the end of the day, given our modern health care service and ambulance service and the huge amount of paramedics who work in the service with clot-busting drugs and analytical equipment in the back of their ambulances, what is important is how long they take to get to the patient. The patient's destination will be chosen based on the patient being stabilised and treated in transit to the local accident and emergency unit.