The Scottish Government has officially requested support from the military to deal with pressure in the ambulance service that has extended waiting times, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has confirmed.
On Thursday, Nicola Sturgeon told MSPs during First Minister’s Questions the possibility of asking for aid was “under active consideration”, but the request came just a few hours later.
The MoD has said the request relates to support of the mobile testing units currently deployed by the Scottish Ambulance Service, which would free up resources within the service.
Sturgeon apologised to people who had endure long waits for ambulances, including the family of 65-year-old Gerard Brown, the Glasgow man who died while waiting 40 hours for treatment.
A spokeswoman for the MoD said: “The Ministry of Defence has received a request from Scottish Government under the Military Aid to Civilian Authority process.
“We are working hard to identify where we can most effectively assist other government departments and civil authorities.”
Speaking in Holyrood on Thursday, the First Minister said: “I apologise unreservedly to anyone that has suffered or is suffering unacceptably long waits.
“A range of actions have already been taken to address these challenges, for example additional funding to support new recruitment.
“A number of additional actions are currently under active consideration and I’m happy to summarise these in further exchanges, but I can confirm now that this includes consideration of seeking targeted military assistance to help deal with short-term pressure points.
“Such military assistance is already being provided to ambulance services in England and of course we have had military assistance for other aspects of the pandemic over the past 18 months.”
Health secretary Humza Yousaf, who said on Wednesday that people should “think twice” before calling for an ambulance, will make a statement to parliament next week, setting out measures being taken by the Scottish Government to ease the crisis.
The Tory leader Douglas Ross criticised Yousaf’s comments, calling them “dangerous and reckless”, and urged the First Minister to apologise on Yousaf’s behalf – which she did not.
Instead, the First Minister said people should “never hesitate in calling an ambulance if that is the intervention they think is required”.
Ross said: “This shouldn’t be happening in Scotland in 2021.”
He added: “Last week, the First Minister wouldn’t accept the ambulance service is in crisis, surely the last seven days will have changed her mind?”
Sturgeon refused to say there was a crisis, instead saying: “I don’t challenge the extent of the pressure that’s on our ambulance service and indeed on all parts of our national health service.
“It is incumbent on me as First Minister, with all of my colleagues across government, as it faces up to these challenges.”
Pressure because of coronavirus, the First Minister said, was driving the problems being seen in the sector.
She added: “These are challenges mirrored in health services across the UK and indeed many parts of the world because of the realities of Covid.
“The fact that anyone in our country waits an unacceptable period of time for an ambulance when they need urgent care is not acceptable to me and it’s not acceptable to anyone, and that is why we will work closely and intensively with the ambulance service to support it to meet those challenges, which I would expect to continue for a period as the Covid pressure continues and as we go into the winter months.”
The First Minister continued: “I do not, in any way, underestimate the extent of the challenge facing the ambulance service and by extension people across Scotland.
“This is the latest in a number of significant challenges posed to us as a result of this pandemic, our responsibility is to take the action to support the service to meet that challenge and that’s what I’m focused on, what the health secretary is focused on and what the entire government is focused on.”
Speaking specifically about the case of Mr Brown, a spokeswoman from the Scottish Ambulance Service said: “We have started an investigation into the circumstances relating to the delay in reaching Mr Brown and will be in contact with Mr Brown’s family directly to apologise for the delay in response and pass on our sincere condolences.
“We are really sorry for their loss and our thoughts are with them at this difficult time.
“All findings and lessons learned will be shared with Mr Brown’s family as part of the investigation process.”
Mr Brown’s death has been reported to the Procurator Fiscal, who said an investigation was “ongoing”.