Ambulance staff to be balloted over fatigue

| Written by Chris Cope

MEMBERS of trade union Unite who are working in the ambulance service in the north of Scotland will be balloted on possible strike action over fatigue at work.

It comes after the union learned that one employee in the Highlands and Islands or Grampian had worked up to 36 hours and another one 24 hours when they should have been doing a 12-hour shift.

Unite representative for Scottish Ambulance Service's north division Paul Truslove said one member of staff in Lerwick recently raised concerns over the issue of having no protection from excessive workloads, long shifts and fatigue due to a lack of cover.

But it is understood that there are few concerns generally from the Lerwick-based crew and that most staff are happy to put themselves forward for extra on-call work.

A spokesperson for the Scottish Ambulance Service said it is "continuing to engage positively with our partners at Unite".

The examples of staff working 36 and 24 hours did not take place in Shetland.

Truslove said the issue of fatigue was more "problematic" in Orkney rather than Shetland, with staff on the islands feeling "duty bound to continue working when they are fatigued as they are aware that there is no one else to attend emergencies".

The Shetland ambulance service recently confirmed that four new paramedics are set to be qualified by Christmas to bring the Lerwick ambulance crew up to its full complement.

The rota in Lerwick was also recently changed to increase cover of the back-up ambulance.

The issue of fatigue within staff locally is said to have improved greatly in recent years following the recruitment of more workers.

Things appeared to reach a head in 2015 when a 71-year-old man with a suspected broken hip was left waiting in Vidlin for more than three hours for an ambulance as a back-up crew were "booked off fatigued" while the primary team were out on a call.

Unite regional officer Tommy Campbell said it was a "national scandal" that some workers were on shift for up to thirty-six hours.

A Scottish Ambulance Service spokesperson said: "We are continuing to engage positively with our partners at Unite as we are keen to listen to and respond to any concerns raised by our staff or their representatives.

"We have long-standing arrangements in place to ensure we put patients at the heart of our decision making, whilst balancing the needs and wellbeing of our staff - who do a fantastic job day in, day out caring for patients across Scotland.

"We take this issue extremely seriously, which is why we are continuing to meet with staff and work closely with them to help resolve any issues raised. We look forward to working in partnership with our union colleagues to provide the very best service to our patients and staff."