The head of NHS Scotland today vowed to resolve a row over firefighters being banned from driving ambulances to enable paramedics to continue treating casualties.
The restriction was imposed despite the Scottish Ambulance Service saying it could authorise anyone with the correct licence to drive its vehicles.
It followed a firefighter driving an ambulance to hospital in Shetland while two paramedics treated other victims of a road crash.
NHS chief executive Paul Gray tweeted in response to The Scotsman’s story about the ban: “I’m discussing with @Chief_SFRS [Scottish Fire and Rescue Service chief officer Alasdair Hay] - we all want to resolve this quickly.”
The patient involved, John Gold, 50, who suffered multiple injuries including a collapsed lung, said the firefighter had saved his life, and outlawing the practice was “nonsense”.
However, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) said firefighters were not allowed to drive ambulances because they were not trained or insured to do so.
Mr Gold, a taxi driver, was taken to the Gilbert Bain Hospital in Lerwick after a head-on collision in August in which his two passengers were also hurt.
He said: “What does it have to come to? Does somebody have to die before they realise? The emergency services up here help each other out.
“I heard the ambulance man saying, ‘Is there anyone who can drive the ambulance for us’, because he and the other paramedic had to stay there because there were another three casualties.
“Then he said, ‘It’s alright, one of the firefighters is coming, he’s going to drive it in’.
“To me, that was a godsend. I was the one who was going to die if they couldn’t do it.”
Shetland Liberal Democrat MSP Tavish Scott said: “A trained driver for any one of our emergency services is trained and professional.
“I am amazed and puzzled as to why driving a vehicle to save lives would be banned. That looks wrong and I will be asking ministers to explain.”
Highlands and Islands Conservative MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston said: “It’s important, particularly in a place like Shetland which has dispersed and remote communities, that people feel they can take similar action in future if required.
“When lives are at stake, flexibility like this is essential.”
A Scottish Ambulance Service spokesman said: “If there is a clinical need for two of our crew members to be in the back of an ambulance with a patient en route to hospital, any person with an appropriate licence, and the authority of our clinicians, can drive the vehicle. The service fully insures any driver who is driving with our authority and holds a current valid driving licence for the vehicle.”
However, SFRS assistant chief officer Lewis Ramsay said: “Our firefighters are neither trained nor insured to drive ambulances. The SAS states it is prepared to insure and underwrite any loss, but we have not been asked to meet to formalise a joint nationally-agreed position.
“They are, however, trained and equipped to ride in the rear of an ambulance and render medical assistance … our firefighters can and will assist in the rear of the ambulance to allow a member of the ambulance crew to drive.”