The 2 per cent efficient government savings target for the Scottish Ambulance Service in 2008-09 amounts to £3.668 million, and the service is forecast to achieve that sum in recurring cash revenue savings. In addition, non-recurring capital and productivity savings of £1.67 million are forecast. Those savings will be retained by the Scottish Ambulance Service for reinvestment.
Is the minister aware that the Scottish Ambulance Service predicts a saving of £160,000 from reducing the number of paramedics that it uses during night-time helicopter flights? According to the service's budget papers, the change will result in a reduced potential to treat some patients. Does the minister believe that the relatively small financial saving is worth the increased risk, albeit that the money will be reinvested in other parts of the service?
It is up to the Scottish Ambulance Service to make decisions about the provision of the service as long as it provides a safe, good-quality service to the public and the
Peter Peacock glosses over the central point in the debate, which is that every single penny of the efficiency savings that the Scottish Ambulance Service or any other national health service board achieves is reinvested in front-line care. So far this year, the Scottish Ambulance Service has invested in 30 additional front-line accident and emergency ambulance crews, including the vehicles and their running costs, and 10 additional posts in the emergency medical dispatch centres that deal directly with the public. It has also made other significant developments.
In all seriousness, I think that there is a real issue about members of the Labour group getting up in the chamber and complaining about efficiency savings that are being reinvested in front-line services when the party that they represent intends to impose £500 million-worth of cuts in the Scottish Government budget, which will result in real problems for NHS services across the country. Of course, that is without taking into account the £130 million that the United Kingdom Government intends to remove from the Scottish health capital budget, which will create serious problems for the Scottish Ambulance Service. I suggest that Peter Peacock turns his attention to that issue.
The cabinet secretary will be aware that, following the transfer of an ambulance station to Ballater, the local community in Braemar has become involved in developing an ambulance service for the area. Will the cabinet secretary urge the Scottish Ambulance Service to take the same approach in other parts of the country? Does she agree that it is important for the service to evaluate what it is doing in Braemar?
The Scottish Ambulance Service should—and, indeed, will want to—evaluate the approach and learn and apply any lessons that emerge. It is incumbent on the service to find innovative ways of delivering services to patients, particularly in our rural communities. As I have said before and will no doubt say many times in the future, people who live in areas where delivering public services is more difficult are still entitled to the same quality of service. How that service is delivered will vary from area to area, and the Scottish Ambulance Service is leading by example in putting in place innovative and imaginative solutions.