14 February 2002

(S1O-4709) Scottish Ambulance Service

4. Pauline McNeill (Glasgow Kelvin) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive when the Scottish Ambulance Service will complete the introduction of a paramedic technician into every ambulance. (S1O-4709)

The Deputy Minister for Health and Community Care (Hugh Henry): The service plans to have a paramedic in every emergency front-line ambulance by the end of 2005.

Pauline McNeill: Does the minister agree that, as paramedics have additional training, investment in the programme, whose aim is to ensure that a paramedic is available for every 999 call, is crucial to our emergency services? Does the minister agree that ambulance technicians, who are at the front line in many emergencies, have a difficult job and that, to meet our targets for a full paramedic service, we must look after those staff, as they are the main source of recruitment for the paramedic service?

Hugh Henry: The Scottish Ambulance Service has received additional money for three years to train 225 technicians to paramedic level. The year-on-year uplifts to its allocations have enabled it to increase the overall complement of emergency ambulance staff. There are 200 more emergency ambulance staff in the front-line vehicles than there were 10 years ago. We value and appreciate the contribution of the staff. We will do everything possible to raise standards and to protect the staff's best interests.

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Does the minister recall that Scotland's two busiest part-time ambulance stations are the ones in Peterhead and Fraserburgh? Is he aware that, at grave risk to the public, staff at those stations work excessive hours to cover a full-time requirement? Does he intend to provide the necessary funding to upgrade the stations to full-time operation in the coming year?

Hugh Henry: I am not familiar with staff hours in the locality that Stewart Stevenson mentioned and members would not expect me to be familiar with them—that issue is the responsibility of local managers. The Ambulance Service is formulating proposals to improve ambulance provision in Scotland. I am sure that, as part of that, it will consider Stewart Stevenson's comments.

Robert Brown (Glasgow) (LD): Does the minister accept that it is crucial that the Ambulance Service works in close collaboration with health boards, particularly given the background of the acute hospitals review and the reduction in the number of hospitals in some areas? Will he undertake to ensure that there is no halt in the funding regime that supports the increase in the number of paramedics and that the welcome funding that he announced will be safeguarded and, if necessary, ring-fenced to ensure that the increase is delivered?

Hugh Henry: As I said, the funding regime is intended to provide additional paramedics. The proposals to consider response services will improve the service that is available to the public. Robert Brown is correct that the Ambulance Service must ensure that it liaises closely with health boards. Those who rely on the provision of services in hospitals often depend on the Ambulance Service to get them there. We will ensure that close liaison will continue and, where necessary, that the liaison will improve.

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