UK Government accused of 'poaching' Scottish ambulance staff to shore up HGV shortages

Scotland’s strained ambulance service could find itself under further pressure, with the UK Government accused of “poaching” paramedics away from the NHS after asking them to step in to help with the HGV driver shortage.

The criticism comes just days after soldiers arrived in Scotland to drive ambulances as part of a move by the Scottish Government to reduce the pressure on the service, which has been stretched to near breaking point by Covid-19 and NHS demand.

Earlier this week, the UK Government announced plans to give around 5,000 fuel tanker and food lorry drivers temporary UK visas in the run-up to Christmas as a lack of drivers led to a fuel shortages as deliveries to petrol stations were missed.

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DOVER, UNITED KINGDOM - DECEMBER 24: A member of the French Federation of Rescue and First Aid swabs a lorry driver to test for Covid-19 on December 24, 2020 in Dover, United Kingdom. Travel from the UK to France is gradually resuming after being suspended due to concerns about a new strain of Covid-19. The British government deployed its Track and Trace team to administer Covid-19 tests to lorry drivers waiting to cross at Dover. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

On September 24, minister for roads Baroness Vere of Norbiton also wrote to all UK drivers with HGV licences asking them to “consider returning” to the private sector in a bid to tackle the driver shortage.

The letter, sent by the Department for Transport, said there were “fantastic HGV driving opportunities in the logistics industry” and spoke of improving pay and conditions “across the sector”.

The correspondence said there were also “more options for flexible working” and included links to the Road Haulage Association and Logistics UK website.

However, due to the fact all paramedics and technicians who wish to drive ambulances require a C1 HGV licence, the letter was also sent to staff already working for the NHS in the ambulance service.

This was described as “poaching” and a “pretty poor move” by one SNP councillor, who is training to become a technician with the Scottish Ambulance Service.

Ciaran McRae, who represents the SNP on Aberdeen City Council, said it was time for the UK Government to “rethink their immigration policy” before the situation becomes a “full-blown crisis”.

He said: “Given I gained my C1 driving license for the Scottish Ambulance Service, if I'm receiving this letter then every other ambulance driver in the country will have too.

"The fact that ambulance drivers are receiving this letter shows that the UK could face stark choices between health care, food and fuel over the coming months.

"It's a reflection of the shambolic situation we find ourselves in with Brexit, where we've made this country an unwelcome place to thousands of HGV drivers and we're now forced to take such desperate measures as this.”

In total, 114 army personnel including drivers and support staff have been drafted in to help the Scottish ambulance Service with non-emergency driving work, with a further 111 personnel set to help run mobile Covid test units in Scotland.

The pressure on the service was the focus of intense scrutiny earlier this month after a man died following a 40-hour wait for an ambulance in Glasgow.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon later admitted Scotland's NHS was facing a “crisis” due to the impact of Covid-19 and historic pressures.

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “We don’t want ambulance drivers to change jobs or to be diverted from their vital work saving lives.

“The letter was automatically sent to almost one million people with HGV driving licences, and it was impossible to narrow the copy-list by profession due to personal data protection.”

The Scottish Ambulance Service was also contacted for comment.

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