Opposition leaders have urged the Scottish Government to act following the death of a man in the stairwell of his tenement home after waiting five hours for an ambulance.
Deputy first minister John Swinney said the death of Richard Brown, 55, was unacceptable but the leaders of the Scottish Conservatives and Scottish Labour urged action to be taken to alleviate the pressures on the ambulance service and wider health service.
Stepping in for First Minister Nicola Sturgeon – who was attending COP26 in Glasgow – during First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, Swinney stressed the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the health service.
Labour leader Anas Sarwar said: “Mr Brown isn’t the first avoidable death this winter, and if action isn’t taken, he will not be the last.
“People are dying not because we don’t have the treatments to help them, but because help isn’t coming fast enough.”
Extra funding announced in September across the health service “was not enough”, Sarwar said, adding: “When will the government come forward with a sufficient package of support so we can prevent unnecessary suffering and deaths this winter?”
Expressing his sympathies to the family of Mr Brown, the deputy first minister said the matter was unacceptable, adding: “One of the reasons why the ambulance service is under so much pressure is because of the significant increase in demand for its services because of the significant increase in demand in general for their services as a consequence of the pandemic.”
But the Labour leader told Swinney that cracks in the health service had been showing since before Covid-19 took hold.
Visibly angered by the response from the deputy first minister, Sarwar pointed to a survey from the Unite trade union released on Thursday.
“Given that answer, you can understand why 88% of the staff say they don’t feel valued by the Scottish Government, you can understand why 98% of the staff say that the announcements in September were insufficient.
“We hear all the talk about record numbers of staff – the facts are this; 79% of the staff believe that they are understaffed and there are not enough of them.
“Listen to NHS staff, don’t ignore them.”
Swinney, who said he was troubled by the findings of the survey, responded: “I assure Mr Sarwar and the public that the government is absolutely determined to ensure that we use all of the resources available to us to make sure individuals receive the care they require.”
Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross said ambulance staff were “crying out for help”.
“Frontline staff have sent out their own 999 call to this government,” he added, referencing a statement by Unite’s Scottish secretary, Pat Rafferty.
“Scotland’s NHS needs more support – this winter is going to be its toughest ever test.
“There’s an extra £605m coming to the Scottish Government this year, how much of that money will his government commit to Scotland’s NHS right now?”
The deputy first minister said: “Mr Ross will appreciate that, while I used to be close to decision-making on financial issues, I’m no longer finance secretary, so I’ll leave those questions for the budget.”
Swinney then went on to say that employment in the NHS was at a record high.
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