Army personnel could be driving Scotland’s ambulances for longer than the two months originally planned, with Scottish secretary Alister Jack declaring the military support is “here for the long run” if needed.
A total of 114 soldiers have been drafted in to drive non-emergency vehicles for the Scottish Ambulance Service, with a further 111 members of the armed forces helping to staff coronavirus testing centres.
It comes as the recent surge in Covid cases in Scotland has put further pressure on the NHS, with some patients experiencing long waits for ambulances – something First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has been clear is unacceptable.
Health secretary Humza Yousaf, who met some of the soldiers who are stepping in on Friday, said he expected their assistance would help make a “significant improvement” to the waiting times crisis.
Jack said that while two months of support had initially been requested, military help could remain in place “longer if that’s what the Scottish Government needs and what it takes to help protect the public”.
Writing in the Mail on Sunday, the Scottish secretary said: “The British military is always ready to deploy at the drop of a hat – but they are also here for the long run.
“Initially two months of support were requested, but let me be crystal clear about timescales.
“The UK’s Forces are not in any way restricting the amount of time available. We are happy for this operation to go on longer if that’s what the Scottish Government needs and what it takes to help protect the public.”
Jack added: “I am pleased that we are able to work together as one to bring a quality UK asset such as the military to bear on problems.
“I say with confidence that if our NHS here in Scotland continues to struggle as winter bites, the UK military stands ready with much more help, which they can deliver in a heartbeat.”
Colonel Anthony Phillips, the commander of joint military command for Scotland, has previously said the forces deployment with the ambulance service could be extended.
Members of the armed forces from 68 Squadron from 7 Regiment Royal Logistic Corps are now helping out, with approximately two-thirds of the troops based in the Glasgow area and a third in the Edinburgh region – although they can be deployed elsewhere as required by the ambulance service.
Col Phillips stated on Friday: “Our commitment will be in the region of about two months.
“It is all conditions-based and if there is a requirement to look at that and extend, then that will be done in conjunction with the Ministry of Defence and the Scottish Government.”