Holyrood pauses plan to downgrade ambulance response times

A downgrading of ambulance response times to calls reporting falls and chest pains has been suspended by the Scottish Government.

Ambulance crews would have longer to respond to calls under the controversial proposals. Picture: Gareth Easton

Scottish Ambulance Service management proposed that calls reporting chest pains with abnormal breathing, or chest pains in someone with a history of heart attack or angina would be changed from a “red” to “yellow” response, meaning crews would be required to attend within 19 minutes rather than eight.

The service said the changes were based on “detailed clinical analysis of cases for which those codes have been applied, as well as feedback from staff in clinical practice”, but critics claim it is to increase response times in order to meet government targets.

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Current targets are for 75 per cent of the most serious calls to be responded to within eight minutes but a report last week found that only 66 per cent of calls are seen within that time.

Twelve proposed changes included the response to someone “not alert after falling” downgraded from red to yellow and calls reporting someone “not alert with chest pains” or “difficulty speaking between breaths” treated as an amber rather than red response.

The Scottish Government said the proposed changes have been “paused” as the Chief Medical Officer Dr Catherine Calderwood has “expressed concern”.

A government spokeswoman said: “We have been alerted to the Scottish Ambulance Service’s decision to change the classification of certain calls.

“The Chief Medical Officer has expressed concern regarding the clinical implications of this change of coding. As a result, the proposed changes to the coding has been paused by the ambulance service.

“They are reverting to their previous coding system while the Chief Medical Officer works with the team to understand the changes. This will help to ensure patient safety is maintained at all times.”

A Scottish Ambulance Service spokesman said: “The changes to 12 clinical codes, out of over 1,700 codes, were introduced to enable the fastest response to critical and immediately life-threatening conditions, such as cardiac arrest and the most appropriate response first time to the codes we reviewed.

“The plans are based upon detailed clinical analysis of cases for which those codes have been applied, as well as feedback from staff in clinical practice and trade union partners have been fully engaged in the process. We have paused these plans to allow more time to review them with the Chief Medical Officer.”

Scottish Labour health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said: “This will shock people across Scotland that our ambulance service is under so much pressure that they have had to move the goalposts on a range of conditions which could be life-threatening.

“We know that under this SNP government, ambulance staff are undervalued and under intolerable pressure, and we see today what that means for patients.”