Covid Scotland: Labour calls for field hospitals and extra staff to combat NHS and ambulance crisis

Scottish Labour has called for increased measures to help the NHS and Scottish Ambulance Service cope with a growing crisis ahead of winter.

In a Labour opposition debate at Holyrood on Wednesday, health spokesperson Jackie Baillie renewed calls for field hospitals to be set up, staff to be brought out of retirement, and a 30-minute maximum turn-around time to be set for ambulances bringing patients to A&E.

Health secretary Humza Yousaf said he would consider the proposal of field hospitals, but this was dependent on the availability of staff.

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Health Secretary Humza Yousaf during a debate about the NHS and ambulance crisis at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. Picture date: Wednesday September 22, 2021.

He also confirmed 114 military personnel will be deployed to support the Scottish Ambulance Service, 32 of whom will begin work on Sunday.

“The deployment of Army personnel to support Scottish ambulance service will begin from Sunday, with training commencing from Friday, and will in fact total 114 personnel for ambulance driver support,” he told MSPs.

“The increase was agreed yesterday afternoon by the Ministry of Defence, who make the decision on final numbers, to support operational deployment.

“This deployment will come in three tranches, the first of which will be 27 drivers and seven support staff.

“There will be further deployments on Monday and Wednesday, and all additional boots will be on the ground by the end of this month.”

Mr Yousaf also announced the Scottish Ambulance Service would publish more easily-accessible data on ambulance waiting times on its website, broken down by health board.

Ms Baillie accused the health secretary of failing to act to prevent the crisis.

"NHS staff, nurses, doctors, and paramedics are all doing their very best, and they absolutely deserve our thanks,” she said.

"But they need more than warm words. They need action and the SNP is not listening to their very real and genuine concerns.

"For months now, the Cabinet secretary has done nothing. Ambulance delays were raised as an issue in the press in June and in July, and in August.

"Where was the Cabinet secretary in all that time? Posted missing, clearly hoping the problems would go away by themselves.”

She added: “Ambulance delays are the worst on record, but the ambulance delays have an underlying cause.

“The problem is patient flow through A&E and admissions to the hospital itself. If you want to fix problems with the ambulance service, you need to fix the blockage at A&E and create more beds.”

Conservative shadow health secretary Sandesh Gulhane backed Labour’s call for field hospitals.

“The decision to close the Louisa Jordan field hospital is coming back to haunt us,” he said.

“What an example of poor planning and waste. We need to act now to establish pop-up wards at hospitals.

“But a word of warning – these should not be used to fudge A&E waiting time stats. If patients are waiting in a ward to be seen, that’s what’s happening: they are waiting."

Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton also echoed Ms Baillie’s accusations the government has taken too long to act.

"This ambulances waiting times crisis didn't come out of nowhere, it is a result of failure after failure at the hands of this government,” he said.

"The unimaginable pressure our health services under now is scarring a generation of healthcare professionals.

"Staff are struggling and are fighting against impossible workloads.”

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