Union blasts ambulance shortage
A TRADE union says immediate support is needed for ambulance services in the West Highlands which are ‘threadbare and sometimes non-existent’.
Unite regional officer Richard Whyte said members in Skye, Fort William and Caithness are becoming increasingly frustrated and concerned about the dangerous practice of routinely putting emergency ambulances onto long patient transfers to Raigmore Hospital.
He explained: ‘There are 400 inter-hospital transfers between Belford and Raigmore a year – that’s more than one a day. There are 250 a week from Belford, Broadford and Caithness.
‘There has been a reduction in patient transfer service where members of staff now work on their own. There has also been a reduction in the number of journeys because Raigmore is asking people, as much as possible, to travel under their own steam, but where patient requires a wheelchair or anything more than an arm to lean on, it is passed on as an emergency.’
He said that amid the changes lessons have not been learned.
‘There are occasions where staff are working 12 hours, going home but getting a call in the middle of their sleep to come back out, which is leading to fatigue and low morale.
‘Sometimes before the ambulances can return to their own communities, they are being sent to cover calls in the Inverness area. And there has been more than one occasion when the service has been threadbare or even non-existent in the north-west.’
‘The lack of foresight by ambulance chiefs is astonishing,’ continued Mr Whyte. ‘God forbid that anything goes wrong when Skye, Lochaber or Caithness is left with little or no emergency cover. This needs sorted now.’
A Scottish Ambulance Service spokesperson said: ‘We are aware of pressures on inter-hospital transfers and are working on this with NHS Highland.
‘We are also aware of the need to keep emergency cover in the area. Calls are responded to based on patient need. This means sending patients the most appropriate response, which, if they have an immediately life-threatening condition such as cardiac arrest, will be the closest available resource.
‘There is a range of responses we can send to emergencies, including air and land ambulances, as well as first responders, and we continue to work closely with our partners and communities to ensure we deliver the safest and most effective service.
‘As part of a £5 million additional investment in the service, we have also recruited 12 staff into new posts across the Highland area since April 2016.’