AN EXTRA 150 ambulance technicians will be starting work across Scotland as a result of a recruitment drive introduced after a trainee chose not to respond to an emergency because he was on a meal break.
The increase in staff will allow a change in working hours to ensure ambulance workers get planned rest breaks in their shift, but are still able to attend emergency calls when required.
The change was introduced following the outrage triggered by the death of 33-year-old Mandy Mathieson, who suffered a cardiac arrest at her home at Tomintoul in 2010.
The village depot is just 800 yards away but trainee technician Owen McLauchlan chose not to respond because he was on a meal break.
Ms Mathieson, a Cairngorms National Park accounts technician, did not receive help from emergency services for nearly half an hour and was pronounced dead by an ambulance crew sent from Grantown, 15 miles away.
Later it emerged that the delay itself did not contribute to her death, but her family led demands to resolve the working hours issue in an attempt to prevent such incidents happening again.
Her late grandfather, Charlie Skene, was Tomintoul’s sole ambulance driver for many years and had campaigned for a dedicated vehicle.
More questions were raised about the ambulance service in April 2011 when Crieff toddler Martyn Gray died when an ambulance was delayed. His parents Lisa and Martin battled to save their son’s life as paramedics twice got lost and took nearly 50 minutes to respond, while an ambulance crew just a few miles away was on a statutory break.
Yesterday health secretary Alex Neil met with some of the latest group of additional trainees to start the Ambulance Technicians course at the Scottish Ambulance Service Academy in Glasgow.
Mr Neil said: “These 150 new technicians are destined for posts all over Scotland. Students in the group I met today will be heading for various locations from Gairloch to Aberdeen to Stranraer.
“We know that the priority of ambulance staff is their patients and the new ways of working which these additional staff will support will in turn help all staff to respond to those emergency cases who need them the most.”
Ambulance staff used to work a 40-hour week, including two-and-a-half hours of unpaid break time. All front line workers have now moved to a 37.5-hour working week, which includes rest time. This means workers attend emergency calls if they come up at any time during their shifts.
Yesterday Pauline Howie, the Chief Executive of the Scottish Ambulance Service, said: “Every day, ambulance staff go the extra mile for their patients with a strong sense of professionalism and commitment that starts from the day they join the service as a new trainee.”
The Scottish Ambulance Service has entered a partnership with Glasgow Caledonian University to train ambulance staff.