A LOCAL campaigner has said a recent incident at the Tesco supermarket in Lerwick when a pensioner had to lie on the cold stone floor waiting for an ambulance for almost an hour and a half is further evidence of the urgent need for a Shetland-based emergency services control room.
Councillor Allison (Flea) Duncan said he fears that someone will lose their life before the centralisation of ambulance, fire and police control rooms has been replaced with an a system that more appropriately serves the needs of a rural community such as Shetland.
Customers and the supermarket’s own first-aiders rushed to the help of the 78-year old widow from Lerwick, who asked not to be named, when she suffered a blackout while queuing for the tills last Friday and collapsed on to the floor, banging her head in the process.
Claire Leask, from Scalloway, who was waiting in the same queue, was one of the first to react. She said: “I could see she wasn’t well and was going to be sick, so I put her into the recovery position, and then she was sick.
“It was me who phoned the ambulance, I made the initial call at 12.18pm. I got through and they took down all the information and said I would get a call back, but there was no call back, so I phoned again 15 minutes later.
“The Tesco manager also called the ambulance a few times and then called the local hospital in the hope to speed things up.”
Eventually Leask got a call back from a Glasgow-based ambulance service control room at 1.14pm – almost exactly an hour after the initial call had been made.
About ten minutes later the ambulance arrived and the casualty was taken to the Gilbert Bain Hospital, where she was kept for two days.
“I am utterly appalled and disgusted that it took so long, especially with the ambulance station right next door and the local hospital a stone throw away,” Leask said.
“The local ambulance didn’t know anything about this emergency. There seems to be a communication problem within the ambulance service and that needs to be highlighted.”
It was the second known case within a month where a patient had to wait for an unreasonably long time for an ambulance to arrive.
Speaking to Shetland News on Monday, the pensioner said she was lucky in that she hadn’t suffered a heart attack or a stroke when collapsing in the Tesco queue, as otherwise things could have been far more serious.
She said she was feeling “chirpy” again after two days in hospital where she was treated for low blood pressure and dehydration.
She said she was grateful for all the help she had received and wanted to thank everybody who came to her help.
“It was so embarrassing because it happened in the aisle all customers came to in order to get directed to the till,” she said.
“Everybody was just fantastic, the manager and the public. If it hadn’t been for the manager phoning the Gilbert Bain I might still be lying on the floor there.”
However, the NHS Shetland said it was not the hospital’s role to speed up ambulance call-outs, as crews respond to incidents as prioritised by the Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS).
A spokesperson for the SAS said managing the demand on the ambulance service could be very challenging, especially during winter and the current pandemic.
“We prioritise our responses and our ambulance resources according to clinical need, so that our most poorly patients receive the most urgent response,” the spokesperson said.
“We also have a range of responses for calls where no immediately life threatening symptoms have been identified and this includes arranging for a more in-depth clinical assessment of the patient.
“In this case, once assessed the call was upgraded and an ambulance dispatched.
“We will be contacting the patient in the coming days directly to apologise for the delay and to make sure she is recovering well.”
Councillor Duncan said he wanted to be absolutely clear that his campaign for a Shetland-based control centre was in no way criticising the professionalism of the local emergency services.
“I am not getting at the ambulance service at all,” he said. “As soon as they got the call they handled the job professionally.
“It’s the control centre where the failure is – and it is not good enough.
“If this continues, then it is a matter of time that someone loses their life. And that is all the more reason why I continue to fight for our own emergency services control centre here in Shetland.”
Chairman of the local safety and resilience board councillor Alastair Cooper said the recent performance of the ambulance control room was not good enough and needed to be addressed.
“There is a continued issue with the control rooms and it needs to be sorted out because you had a heart condition or suffered a stroke waiting for an hour is a long time. It is a serious issue that needs to be addressed.”
He added: “I think we need to do more to ensure that the control rooms are operating effectively for our community.
“The concept of a control room being located in Shetland for all the emergency service is something I would support, but I do recognise that it would take a long time to achieve given the way the emergency services are currently organised.”
In November, an elderly lady from Sandwick had to wait four hours for an ambulance to arrive after suffering a broken pelvis after the original call for an ambulance had been directed to Edinburgh rather than the northern division.
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