Ambulance staffing ‘puts patient lives at risk’

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PATIENT lives are being at put risk by a failure of ambulance chiefs to cover shifts, it has been claimed.

A number of Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) workers have contacted TheSouthern to voice their concerns that the move has led to single crews in a number of emergency vehicles.

We have been told that this lack of cover resulted in a paramedic having to wait more than an hour with a Kelso man, who had suffered a brain haemorrhage, for a double-crewed ambulance from Galashiels to take the patient to hospital.

An SAS worker, who did not wish to be named, said: “It has been decided not to cover shifts on an overtime basis due to budget issues and trying to cut costs. Over the past few weeks there have been numerous instances where emergency ambulances have been single-crewed as a result of this decision from management in the Borders.

“When an emergency ambulance is single-crewed, this puts the crew member under extra pressure and stress dealing with critically ill patients and delays emergency transport of the critically ill patient to the receiving hospital.

“The quicker you can convey a critically ill patient to hospital, the better the survival rate is. These delays because of single-crewed ambulances are putting patients lives at risk.”

An SAS spokesman denied they were intentionally and regularly using one-man crews.

He said: “The Scottish Ambulance Service does not routinely roster staff to be on their own on a double-crewed vehicle, however there may be occasions, such as staff shortage, where some shifts are single crewed.

“This should be the exception and every effort should be made to provide cover, if on occasion rostered staff are unavailable.”

However, the SAS worker went on: “The shifts needing covered over the past few weeks in the Borders have been known to the management for days prior to the shifts, so these could have been covered, but are not.

“We understand in exceptional circumstances, such as late call offs, the shift may not be able to be covered but these shifts in question are known well in advance.”

During 2008, SAS received £4.7million to eliminate single-crewed ambulances on rosters across the country.

This latest complaint has prompted Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale MSP Christine Grahame to ask questions of the service in the region.

Ms Grahame said: “I would have great concern, given the indications from the cabinet secretary for health three years ago that one-man crews in emergency situations should be a thing of the past, that in fact a retrograde step was being taken in ambulance cover in the Borders.

“This could only result in an increased risk to the patient at the very least, and additional treatment costs and at worst, life threatening.”