Ambulance code system papering over cracks of underfunded service, says Scottish Labour

The new coding system for ambulance call-outs is “papering over the cracks” of an underfunded system, Scottish Labour has said.

It comes after the party warned that "lives are being risked" as new figures showed waiting times have increased.

The percentage of the most urgent calls which are responded to within ten minutes has fallen to 71 in 2020/21, a ten-point drop on the previous year.

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These calls, coded by the Scottish Ambulance Service as “purple”, are the most urgent category, where a patient is identified as having a 10 per cent or more change of cardiac arrest.

Ambulances at the Glasgow Royal Hospital. Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

The new colour coding system was introduced in 2016/17, but Labour has warned it is not working.

There was a 40 per cent decrease in the number of purple and red – the next level of urgency – calls answered in 2020/21 compared to the year the new system was introduced.

The total number of call-outs waiting over one or two hours for an ambulance has increased, from 827 in 2012/13 to 17,697 in 2020/21.

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Scottish Labour MSP Jackie Baillie at the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood. Picture: PA

Scottish Labour deputy leader and health spokesperson Jackie Baillie said: "The statistics speak for themselves. Ambulance services are not being supported properly and the people of Scotland are being put at risk as a result.

"Time and time again we hear from people who have faced long waits for ambulance care and we know that the number of responses in the crucial first ten minutes has plummeted.

"It's all too clear that changing the systems in place without acting to properly support and finance the service is merely papering over cracks.”

In response to the waiting time figures, a Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The ambulance service is carrying out a national review of demand and capacity to ensure it has the resources in place to meet current and projected future demand.

"This review resulted in an additional £10.5 million funding announced last year and further investment is planned this year.

“This builds on more than £1 billion we have provided to our ambulance service over the past four years as we ensure people continue to receive high-quality emergency health care throughout the country, despite the challenges posed by Covid-19.”

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