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Ambulance staff face ‘lamentable’ conditions

The ambulance service should move its base to the new Lerwick Fire Station, says MSP Tavish Scott.

SHETLAND’S ambulance station is under-resourced with staff facing “lamentable” working conditions and the Scottish Government should intervene, according to isles MSP Tavish Scott.

He said local ambulance staff are being put under increasing pressure, prompting him to write to Scottish health minister Shona Robison “demanding that Shetland and the local staff get a fair deal”.

Scott said emergency callouts and the routine workload was as high in Shetland as it is in other rural and island locations across the country.

He has met the Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) management to press for more training, more staff and a full-time, 24/7 ambulance service operated by fully trained paramedics.  

Scott said he had been told by the Unite trade union that the service is supposed to find £436,000 of savings in the current financial year.

“Shetland’s local ambulance staff are being put under pressure by their own management,” he says. “Management have institutionalised on-call cover. That means… a 24/7 emergency callout is only achieved by staff overtime.

“Unlike other areas of Scotland, paramedics are routinely called out to emergencies with a less trained member of staff. In evenings and weekends, additional cover is provided by first responders with only basic medical training. This puts an intolerable burden on the less qualified staff, which is simply unacceptable.”

Scott said that, based on the SAS’s own figures, local staff’s workload had risen by 45 per cent since 2006.

“Far from cuts, the staff, the community and I want to see investment in Shetland,” he continued. “The service needs two or three new fully trained paramedics. That would then mean Shetland would have the same level of emergency cover as other island and rural areas.

“It is a testament to the efforts and commitment of the Shetland staff that the service runs as well as it does. But the ambulance service in Shetland fails both clinical and staff standards that the management expect in every other part of Scotland.”

Scott said the local station based at Montfield failed staff and safety standards. He is concerned that management have “dragged their feet” on moving staff to a new location.

He added: “A 999 emergency callout means ambulances hurtling through a busy workplace car park and out onto Burgh Road. I have repeatedly asked the SAS whether they have done a risk assessment of this. They refuse to answer.

“The staff conditions are lamentable. So staff have been pressing for a new location on safety grounds. I am very disappointed how long it is taking SAS to do anything to move this forward.

“The sensible location would be at the Lerwick Fire Station. That is new, well-built and in an excellent location. Instead of endless delay, the SAS management must resolve this issue now.”

An SAS spokesman said it recognised the need to provide improved facilities for staff at a new station and it was developing potential options for relocating to – including the new fire station and Gilbert Bain Hospital.

“Discussions are ongoing with NHS Shetland and the fire service to establish a viable preferred option as soon as possible.”

It said investment in staff over recent years had resulted in a “significant reduction” in on-call working, and the station was able to operate “full time, 24/7 for most of the week”.

An additional team member is due to start work this week, while plans are in place for a staff training programme to allow retained staff to become ambulance technicians.

NHS Shetland chief executive Ralph Roberts said the health board valued the service provided by the SAS. “I can also advise that we have been working with the SAS over the potential options to relocate the ambulance service and I understand they are actively looking to conclude this work as quickly as possible.”