Almost eight years ago, on 4th June 2008 – then SNP Health Secretary, Nicola Sturgeon, gave the Scottish Ambulance Service one month to present plans to end the single crewing of its ambulances.
She took this action in response to internal concerns about the service’s use of this practice; and because there were political allegations that the practice of single crewing was born of budget cuts to the service.
Back then, Ms Stugeon said: ‘I have made it clear to the Scottish Ambulance Service that it must take action to eliminate rostered single-manning’, telling the chamber at Holyrood that the service was also being asked to look at the use of rapid response vehicles which were designed for single paramedic crews.
Ms Baillie used Freedom of Information legislation to discover the true scale of the problem in 2016 – after hearing repeated concerns from local medical professionals and patients.
The figures show that since 2013 more than 230 ambulances dispatched from the Arrochar, Vale of Leven and Helensburgh stations, two of which are in Argyll, were staffed by only one person.
Moreover, the practice appears to be becoming established.
The figures for 2015-16 have only been released for the first half the year but already the total number of single-crewed responses is higher than the figures for the entire year in 2014-15. There were 79 incidents when a local ambulance was dispatched with only one crew member in the first six months of 2015-16, compared to 76 for the whole of 2014-15.
On that occasion on 4th June 2008, Ms Sturgeon declared: ‘The policy of the Scottish Government is clear – traditional accident and emergency ambulances should be double crewed, with at least one member being a paramedic, unless in exceptional circumstances.
‘In too many practices, particularly in the Highlands, practice is not living up to that policy. That is not a new situation but it has to be addressed.’
We remain unaware of any announcement that the Scottish Government policy on this has changed. So why is it happening – and on the clearly sleep-ridden watch of Shona Robison, the hapless current Health Secretary but friend of Nicola promoted to Cabinet rank to improve the gender balance?
Yet here we are, in 2016, with the Scottish Labour politician the SNP most fear, former Health Spokesperson, Jackie Baillie, revealing that new figures show that the single-staffing of local ambulances is still widespread – despite that eight year old Sturgeon promise to ‘eliminate’ the practice
Jackie Baillie says: ‘ Sending ambulances out from the stations in Alexandria, Helensburgh and Arrochar with only one crew member increases the pressure on our dedicated local staff and puts patients’ lives at risk.
‘How can it be possible for one member of staff to provide life-saving care to patients and drive an ambulance across the Erskine Bridge at the same time?
‘Nicola Sturgeon made a very clear promise that single-crewed ambulances would be a thing of the past by 2009.
‘It’s now 8 years on since she made that commitment and these figures show that the problem is actually getting worse here in Dumbarton, Vale of Leven, Helensburgh and Lomond.
‘The SNP Health Secretary [Shona Robison] was made aware of staffing problems with our local ambulance services last summer when she met with a group of health campaigners at the Vale of Leven Hospital.
‘It’s time for the SNP finally to get a grip of the situation and ensure that our hard-working local staff get the resources they need.’
Perhaps the solo paramedics are heaving coronary casualties up into the font passenger seat and are whacking their chests twice a second with their left hand as they drive with the right one?
This situation beggars the imagination.
We note that Ms Sturgeon remained as Health Secretary until 5th September 2012, so this practice – to be ended by 2009 but continuing and worsening today. is a failure to be laid solidly at MS Sturgeon’s own door. She didn’t see that order through, Perhaps she would like to explain why?