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Inside Holyrood: Amid soaring waiting times, unprecedented pressures on the Scottish Ambulance Service one Highland MSP says the SNP government needs to 'ensure our NHS is provided with the support it needs and deserves'

By Scott Maclennan

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MSP Edward Mountain outside Raigmore Hospital.
MSP Edward Mountain outside Raigmore Hospital.

Highlands and Islands Conservative MSP Edward Mountain argues that much of the current crisis was predictable after unions raised issues about pressures going back as far as 2018

Every day that passes by, more and more constituents raise their concerns with me regarding unacceptably long waiting times.

Indeed, my mailbag is filling up with many patients still having agonising waits for operations and, even more worryingly, an increasing number who have been left waiting hours for an ambulance.

Every minute counts when it comes to attending to a life-threatening situation, even more so in the Highlands where remote rural communities face long journey times.

It is therefore vital that our ambulance network has the resilience to respond to emergencies and has enough crews available to be dispatched at a moment’s notice. This is the least we should expect after dialling 999, but the level of service is falling far short right now.

I must stress that this is not the fault of our hard working ambulance crews, who are doing everything they can to do to save lives. However, their job has been made so much harder by an SNP Government which has struggled to address the issue of crew shortages.

This has been a long-term problem and hasn’t just arisen as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Many Highlanders will recall the shortage of emergency ambulance provision for our region back in 2017 when there was little to no cover for Skye, Lochaber and Caithness.

This continued to be a persistent problem too. In 2018, the GMB Union threatened to take industrial action due to the lack of emergency ambulance crew cover in Caithness.

There wasn’t just a shortage of emergency ambulances though. During the same period, I was assisting care homes who were having to organise their own transport due to a lack of ambulance cover for patient transfers.

Our ambulance service has been over-stretched for far too long and the situation has reached breaking point with the average national waiting time for an ambulance now up to six hours.

That is shocking. Indeed, it is a crisis, even though the First Minister initially refused to use those words.

I do however welcome that the SNP Government has finally taken some measures to alleviate the pressures facing our ambulance service following calls from the Scottish Conservatives.

The Army and the Fire Service are now being drafted in to plug the gaps and the SNP Health Secretary has also sought support from the British Red Cross too.

While these actions will help to bolster our ambulance service it should never have come to this. Desperate times have called for desperate measures because the SNP Government failed to show leadership and support our ambulance services years prior to the pandemic.

As I have done so since 2016, I will continue to press the SNP Government to ensure our NHS is provided with the support it needs and deserves.

Related Story – Inverness paramedic speaks out on ambulance waiting times

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