First Minister's Questions: Nicola Sturgeon accused of 'new low' over ambulance waiting times

Nicola Sturgeon was accused of presiding over a “new low” for the Scottish health service as she came under significant criticism for long ambulance waiting times.

Following front-page reports in The Herald and the Daily Record that a 65-year-old man died after a 40-hour wait for an ambulance and a woman laid on the floor in agony for eight hours waiting for paramedics, the First Minister was forced to apologise “unreservedly” for “unacceptably long waits”.

Under pressure on Thursday from questioning from opposition leaders to declare the situation within the ambulance service a “major incident” at First Minister’s Questions, the SNP leader confirmed the Scottish Government would submit a request to the British Army for “targeted military assistance” in areas under severe pressure.

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This would be made “as soon as possible”, Ms Sturgeon said, and would considered alongside other measures such as temporary admission wards to help deal with the additional pressure on the NHS.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was forced to apologise for unacceptable ambulance waiting times.

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Referencing the cases of Gerard Brown, who died in Glasgow after a 40-hour wait for an ambulance and whose GP described the situation as “third world medicine”, and of Lillian Briggs who waited eight hours for paramedics while laying on the floor with a double hip fracture, Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross demanded the First Minister accepted the ambulance service was “in crisis”.

"The First Minister says these cases will be fully and properly investigated, but this shouldn’t be happening in Scotland in 2021,” he said.

"When I raised concerns about people dying waiting for an ambulance last week, it was met with groans from the SNP back benches and the First Minister didn’t answer.

"Last week the First Minister wouldn’t accept the ambulance service is in crisis. Surely the last seven days have changed her mind?”

Ms Sturgeon defended her government's record, stating Scotland was facing “probably one of the most challenging combination of circumstances” the Scottish NHS has faced since it was established.

Arguing the ambulance service was already operating at its highest point of “escalation”, she said the pressures on the system were being “largely caused” by Covid-19 pressure.

The First Minister said it was a situation being mirrored across the UK and the ambulance service had received “significant additional funding” to help with recruitment of paramedics and technicians.

Mr Ross also criticised advice from health secretary Humza Yousaf to “think twice” about calling an ambulance due to the strain on the service.

The Tory leader labelled this “dangerous” and “reckless” and a “new low” for the Scottish Government and labelled Mr Yousaf “the problem” rather than the solution.

Turning on the health secretary, Mr Ross said: “This summer he used misleading figures about children with Covid. He wasted months on a flimsy NHS recovery plan that isn’t cutting it and yesterday was a new low.

"We had a health secretary who effectively told people don’t look after your own help.

"He actually said to them, think twice before calling an ambulance.

"With Scotland’s NHS in crisis, isn’t it the case that it is Humza Yousaf who needs to think twice before he speaks?”

Defending her colleague, Ms Sturgeon said he was repeating similar rhetoric from ambulance services across the UK.

She said: “I’ve seen comments from ambulance services in every part of the UK in the last few days saying exactly the same thing, which is where people require intervention from the health service that would better come from parts of the service other than the ambulance service, then we should encourage them to do that.”

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar also criticised the First Minister for having “evaded this issue for weeks” and for “hiding behind the pandemic”.

Labelling the situation facing the ambulance service an “avoidable human tragedy on a heart-breaking scale”, Scottish Labour’s leader criticised the lack of urgency in the response from the Scottish Government.

Accusing Ms Sturgeon and Mr Yousaf of “being in denial” about the situation facing the health service for months, Mr Sarwar asked how many more cases of unacceptably long waits for ambulances would have to happen before “urgent action”.

He said: “How many more Lillian Briggs need to happen in the next week before we take urgent action, how many more Gerard Browns need to happen in the next week before you take urgent action?

"Urgent action needs to happen today, tomorrow, the day after, the day after, not wait a week for this government to wake up.

“People can’t afford to wait and these problems are years in the making – 600,000 people are on waiting lists for treatments, we have record breaking A&E waiting times, and people are tragically dying waiting for ambulances.

"The First Minister likes to remind us that the buck stops with her. It does, so how many more families will have to suffer?”

Responding the First Minister said the request for military assistance would be submitted “as soon as possible” and work would continue on developing other measures to help deal with the pressure.

"Government is literally a 24-hour-a-day responsibility and we will continue to deal with these things in that manner,” she said.

"I don’t shy away at all from how difficult this is. I will not be the only leader of a government right now that is dealing with these issues.

"Right now our job is not though just to describe the problem, our job is to provide the solutions and that is what my government is absolutely focused on doing.”

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