By ROSALIND GRIFFITHS
A petition for a second ambulance for Shetland recently garnered more than 2,000 signatures and was presented on Monday to MSP Tavish Scott.
Mr Scott will hand to petition to the Scottish Ambulance Service in Edinburgh prior to the meeting of NHS Shetland next week, when plans for the future ambulance provision for Shetland Mainland will be revealed.
The petition, signed by around 15 per cent of the population of the Mainland, was organised by Ollaberry resident Malcolm Thomson and placed in shops, receiving a total of 2,190 signatures.
Mr Thomson became concerned about the lack of ambulance cover after several recent cases highlighted the problem – one when a hospital porter was sent to take a heart attack victim to hospital after two 999 calls, and another when a teenage driver had to wait for four hours when the single ambulance was busy.
As a disabled person himself with a spinal condition, Mr Thomson finds the current situation frightening.
He said: “When I am outside I need a walking stick. If I fall I would cause damage to my spine, and I wouldn’t want someone telling me to get myself to hospital. I would hope help would be available at the first phone call.
“It must be frightening for parents of a sick baby. Would they [the ambulance service] talk the mother or father through treatment during a fast car journey? Or how would anyone with a sick parent manage?”
Mr Thomson also wants control of ambulance dispatching to come back to Shetland, rather than be in the Highland area.
“How can anyone sitting hundreds of miles away know what Shetland is like, what the roads are like,” he said. “Shetland is not shrinking and as well as residents lots of visitors come here, so why is the service reducing?”
The petition is endorsed by Mr Scott, who said: “There is considerable need for an additional crew who would ensure a second ambulance could provide a better response time to needs across the isles and I hope they [the Scottish Ambulance Service] will agree.”
Mr Scott also called for de-centralisation of the dispatch service, especially for non-emergency work.
He said: “Centralisation of the control room in Inverness and Elgin hasn’t helped the smooth operation of services, and I can’t believe that a lot of standard transfer duties wouldn’t be more efficiently done from here.”
Shetland previously had two ambulances and a third one as a spare. The two ambulances worked during the day from Monday to Friday, with one ambulance on call during evenings and weekends. But in “service redesign” two years ago, provision was reduced to one ambulance equipped to A&E standards and two patient transport vehicles.
However a former member of the ambulance service said the previous model was no more satisfactory than the current “redesigned” service. Staff fatigue was a problem with only one vehicle on call all day and all night at weekends – he himself went off sick with stress and subsequently had his employment terminated.
The former employee is now calling for the Scottish Ambulance Service to increase staffing levels to have two fully-crewed vehicles providing a 24-hour service.
The ambulance service is to spend £25.5 million on new vehicles over the next three years and its chief executive will be in Shetland next week, when the future of provision will be revealed.
Meanwhile, two first responder schemes have now been started in Shetland for volunteer medics to enhance the ambulance service. They will be the first people on the scene after a 999 call and are trained to manage a patient in a life-threatening emergency in the vital first minutes before the ambulance arrives.