Leader: Ambulance staff in the right job?

A SETTLEMENT at last of the Scottish Ambulance Service dispute over tea-break payments to answer emergency calls might have been hailed as good news, particularly as it came after months of wrangling. But both the circumstances of the dispute and in particular the government offer required to settle it cannot but leave the most bitter taste in many mouths.

The dispute arose more than a year ago when a woman died of a heart attack at her home in the Speyside village of Tomintoul. This was after an ambulance technician, on duty at the depot just 800 yards away from her home, refused to respond to the emergency call because he was on a tea break. A similar incident was recorded in Crieff in April.

The idea that ambulance staff refuse to respond to emergency calls because they are on a tea break will disgust most people. But now consider what followed. Ambulance crews were then offered a £50 payment for each call-out on top of an annual payment of £250. This was rejected. Now the employers have offered £100 for answering each emergency call and a one-off “settlement” payment of £1,500. One wonders what might be offered if this is also rejected: widescreen plasma televisions? Holidays in Torremolinos?

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As if the rejection of the initial offer for handling 999 calls in a tea break was not sufficiently outrageous, the latest inducement is as gross as it is morally offensive. If ambulance crews put tea breaks above emergency calls from people in distress, they should not be in the ambulance service. Those who have managed to hold the public purse to such a hefty ransom should hang their heads in shame.