Leader: Ambulance workers need to think again, for our sake

FOR good reason our emergency services are admired for their bravery, dedication and commitment. Yesterday Scotland's ambulance crews jeopardised their deserved reputation by deciding their right to an uninterrupted tea break was more important than responding to a life-or-death emergency call.

There can be no excuse, no justification, no possible explanation for such a shamefully self-centred decision, which most right-thinking members of the public - the people who depend on the emergency services - will find utterly incomprehensible.

And lest this be seen as knee-jerk union-bashing, let us be clear about the facts upon which we make this admittedly harsh judgment. In the ballot result yesterday 92 per cent of members of the GMB union rejected an offer from the Scottish Ambulance Service, SAS, of a one-off payment of 250 and compensatory overtime if crews worked through a rest period. Crucially, part of the offer - which has also been rejected by Unite and Unison members - spelled out that staff breaks would only be interrupted in the event of a very serious 999 call.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Consider what this refusal to answer real emergency calls will inevitably mean in practice. First, it will be bound to lead to a repeat of the cases like that of Mandy Mathieson, who died from a heart attack in the isolated village of Tomintoul in October of last year after an ambulance technician stationed close to her home refused to attend to her because he was on a meal break. And though we hope it never happens, imagine if there were ever an attack like that in Norway at the weekend in Scotland which resulted in calls to the ambulance service. The logic of the unions' position is that were their members on a break, they would not respond to a call for help to deal with the wounded and dying.

Now, we do not believe ambulance workers would take such a stance, for the vast majority are dedicated to their jobs and believe they are there to care for the public. Unthinkable though it is, a refusal to come to the aid of fellow human beings at the time of their greatest vulnerability is the formal position of the unions following this ballot. This cannot be what ordinary union members, perhaps under the influence of more militant leaders, want.

So what can be done? Health secretary Nicola Sturgeon last night hit the right note, saying that the current arrangements for rest breaks had to change and she was right to point out trade unions have rejected "an eminently fair offer" from the SAS management to resolve the issue. Ms Sturgeon promised to do everything to address the problem and urged management and trade unions urgently to resume talks.

We would echo that sentiment and ask ordinary members to think again - for the sake of their reputation but more importantly for the sake of the public who need to know they will be there when they most need them.