Row over tea break cash is blamed after 999 tragedy

AN AMBULANCE manager has told how he is ashamed to be part of the service after a driver did not respond to a call-out to a woman who later died.

Mandy Mathieson, 33, died after suffering a heart attack just 800 yards from the ambulance station in the Speyside village of Tomintoul last month.

The station received a 999 call but the technician on duty, Owen McLauchlan, was on a rest break and did not respond to the call.

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Another ambulance was sent from Grantown-on-Spey, arriving in 21 minutes, followed by an air ambulance eight minutes later, but Ms Mathieson died.

Mr McLauchlan, who was providing cover in Tomintoul while the full-time local crew - Ms Mathieson's sister and brother-in-law - were on holiday, has been suspended pending an investigation by the Health Professions Council.

The incident has outraged Ms Mathieson's family who are demanding an end to ambulance crews being allowed to opt out of responding to emergency calls during teabreaks.

It has also prompted anger from ambulance staff in the region, who have blamed a "pathetic" 250 payment offer to opt-out of rest breaks as the cause of the problem.

One ambulance manager, who asked not to be named, told The Scotsman: "It is not the first time this has happened in my division and it won't be the last. I feel ashamed to be a manager in this service."

He added: "On the face of it, the story will be presented that the member of staff was on a tea break and didn't respond. This is not the case."

He said the background to the incident can be traced to when the working week was cut from 40 hours to 37 hours. He claims many ambulance services across the UK then offered "availability payments" - some of around 1,200 a year - for staff to work during meal breaks. This is voluntary and staff have an annual opportunity to opt in or out of this.

He went on: "The SAS (Scottish Ambulance Service) offered a pathetic 250 per annum. It was the point of view of senior management staff that this was all they could afford.

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"If a member of staff chose not to accept the money then they were not available during their meal breaks and were entitled to leave the station during their breaks. I know that some members of staff have chosen not to accept the availability payments because of the way they have been treated by staff."

A SAS spokesman said: "Under UK NHS pay arrangements, staff are entitled to an uninterrupted break during their shifts. In Scotland ambulance staff can waive that entitlement if they choose to do so in the interests of patient care."

Ms Mathieson's partner Bobby Taylor said he hopes the incident will force change.

"It's bad that it takes something like this to highlight a failure in the system," he said.