Well, she fell again last week. She suffered fractured feet, a fractured pelvis and delirium but once again she had to wait for emergency care, this time for eight hours. Only when my constituent told call handlers, “my mum is dying” did an ambulance eventually arrive – another hour later.
Catherine is a retired nurse of 40 years, she’s given her life’s work to the care and comfort of others, but when she most needed them, the health service she had been part of all that time couldn’t be there for her.
That’s not the fault of paramedics or call handlers. Our dedicated staff in the ambulance service are not to blame. They’ve been battling on heroically despite a shortage in the workforce and a new system which de-prioritises cases like Catherine’s so that crews can attend to heart attacks and people who have stopped breathing.
Long waits are also caused by record waiting times in Accident and Emergency, to the point where A&E departments are often full when ambulance crews arrive with new patients. What’s deeply troubling is that this is all set to get worse.
New documents obtained by Scottish Liberal Democrats using Freedom of Information legislation have revealed the Scottish Ambulance Service itself believes that waiting times will get even worse without further investment.
They estimate that if the status quo is maintained then by next year, response times will “worsen across the country” with only 59 per cent of immediately life-threatening patients responded to within eight minutes against the target of 75 per cent.
These projections come to light just days after the First Minister was forced to request military support after widespread concerns were raised about increasing waits for emergency care. The documents also say that if current conditions are maintained, more shifts will overrun, rest breaks for ambulance crews will be “detrimentally” impacted and staff well-being will worsen, with a likely uptick in sickness and absence.
We need an immediate and transformational injection of resource and capacity. Yet in the last week, the Health Secretary has attempted to pin the blame anywhere else.
The stories of excruciating and sometimes fatal waits should haunt every member of the SNP/ Green government. They are a symptom of an overrun, understaffed ambulance service, ignored for too long by a government putting priorities elsewhere.
These delays are not the result of a pandemic, and are certainly not the fault of members of the public who call for emergency care in desperation. This is a problem of the government’s own making, and it’s theirs to fix.
Right now we are in the tail end of the summer, a time when, traditionally, pressure on ambulance crews would be expected to be light. I’m really worried about what happens in the winter months – the peak season for emergency responders.
Despite the SNP Health Secretary recklessly suggesting people should think twice before calling an ambulance, I would encourage anyone in an emergency situation not to hesitate in dialling 999. The government need to pull out all the stops to ensure that there will be someone ready to answer that call and in good time.
Alex Cole-Hamilton is Liberal Democrat MSP for Edinburgh Western