Orkney’s MSP, Liam McArthur, has vowed to continue the fight for improved land ambulance provision in Orkney, following discussions with Scottish Ambulance Service managers this week.
The discussions took place on the back of figures revealed to Mr McArthur last month by Health Minister, Joe Fitzpatrick which showed that, in the 12 months to December 2019 there were 168 occasions when emergency calls in Orkney were left waiting due to the ambulance being on another call. This led Orkney’s MSP to demand urgent steps be taken by SAS to increase local land ambulance capacity.
Following the meeting, Milne Weir, Scottish Ambulance Service Regional Director for the North, wrote to Mr McArthur setting out a number of steps being taken to address the problems that have been highlighted. As well as confirming an end to ‘on call’ working, Mr Weir indicated that recruitment to cover existing vacancies would take place along with the secondment of more experience personnel. It is hoped that this will allow a second ambulance to be operational during peak times on Fridays and Saturdays.
Looking further ahead, Mr Weir acknowledged the need for continued work by SAS in reviewing overall demand and capacity. He added that a case to fund additional ambulance posts in Orkney is also being developed, in recognition of the specific challenges faced in the islands.
Commenting on the latest developments, Mr McArthur said:
“The figures revealed last month by the Health Minister clearly show that land ambulance provision in Orkney is inadequate. While staff have been doing their level best to respond to demand, they have been put in an impossible position by the lack of resources available.
“I am encouraged that SAS managers recognise this and are taking steps to try to address the situation. Filling existing vacancies is an essential first step, of course, although any recruitment and training will inevitably take time. It is sensible, therefore, that SAS is also looking to second in more experienced staff to help, particularly in the short term.
“The decision to end ‘on call’ cover is also welcome as it has put existing staff under even more strain. While this may look like it stretches resources more thinly, in practice ending ‘on call’ will help make the service safer and recruitment and retention easier in future. That has to be a good thing.
Mr McArthur went on to add:
“While these initial moves are a step in the right direction, they will still leave the service in Orkney short in comparison to other parts of the country, including Shetland. Again, this was acknowledged by SAS, who insist they are continuing to assess demand and capacity across their operations.
“I understand that Orkney has been identified as a priority area and that the intention is to bring staffing levels more in line with those in Shetland. That is an objective I very much share and am determined to ensure is delivered by SAS and Scottish Ministers in the near future”.