Calls for ambulance waiting times ‘to be published weekly’

Alex Cole-Hamilton will push for an independent inquiry into deaths connected to the ambulance crisis.

Calls for ambulance waiting times ‘to be published weekly’ iStock

Ambulance waiting times should be published on a weekly basis, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton will demand.

He will make the plea to ministers as he warns that the ongoing coronavirus pandemic could mean the next few months will be the “hardest winter the NHS and its staff have ever known”.

Scottish ministers already publish accident and emergency waiting times on a weekly basis – with the figures showing a slump to record lows in recent weeks.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Government has been forced to draft in soldiers and firefighters to drive ambulance service vehicles in a bid to reduce long waits for help.

Cole-Hamilton will use his speech to the Scottish Liberal Democrat autumn conference to vow that he will keep “pushing for an independent inquiry into all unnecessary deaths connected to the ambulance waiting times crisis, with the findings published”.

He will also demand: “The Government must start weekly reporting of ambulance waiting times. They are a symptom of an overrun and understaffed healthcare service, ignored for too long by a government with other priorities.”

While he will stress that “none of this is the fault of the heroic paramedics, technicians or call handlers”, he will tell the conference – his first since becoming leader – of a former nurse who faced two lengthy waits for an ambulance.

Cole-Hamilton will speak out about the case of Catherine Whyte, who in August was “forced to wait 15 hours for an ambulance after suffering a fall”.

After another fall last month she was forced to wait eight hours for an ambulance, he will say, while “suffering from fractured feet, a fractured pelvis and delirium”.

The Lib Dem leader will add: “Only when my constituent warned ‘my mum is dying’ did an ambulance eventually arrive – another hour later.

“Catherine is a retired nurse of 40 years, she’s given her life’s work to the care and comfort of others. But our health service could not be there when she most needed them.”

He will go on to tell the conference that the former NHS Scotland chief executive Paul Gray recently told how the health service would have become overwhelmed with or without Covid.

Cole-Hamilton will say: “The foundations of this crisis were there for years before anyone had ever heard of Covid-19 – the A&E target unmet for three years straight, the treatment time guarantee missed hundreds of thousands of times, patients routinely sent letters telling them they will be seen in 12 weeks when they won’t be seen in a year.”

And he will warn: “I fear this winter will be the hardest winter the NHS and its staff have ever known.

“Staff need cast-iron guarantees that the health service will look after them, just as they have looked after us. Otherwise staff will leave, and the NHS will be in even more trouble.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has been the biggest shock the NHS has suffered in its 73-year existence and has heaped pressure on our ambulance service and wider NHS.

“The Health Secretary recently set out £20m of additional funding to help increase ambulance service capacity and improve response times and staff wellbeing.

“This builds on investment previously outlined that will increase ambulance service staffing by almost 300 by April 2022.”

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