By ROSALIND GRIFFITHS
Shetland is to get a second ambulance, based in Brae and manned by retained staff – the first scheme in the UK to be run that way.
The announcement was made on Tuesday when Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) chiefs visited Lerwick, following mounting concern about emergency provision in the isles.
The new £80,000 ambulance will be fully equipped to ambulance technician standard and the Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) will recruit eight volunteers to be trained as ambulance technicians, involving 11 weeks training off-island.
A recruitment and training plan has already been developed and the new service is expected to go live by the end of August, when crew will be trained to “driver” level and with men being fully trained to ambulance technician level by August 2010.
The retained team will be dispatched when the full-time staff are unavailable, or their arrival could delay treatment. They will also respond to those calls that are clinically assessed as less serious, leaving the full time paramedic team, based in Lerwick, available for more urgent cases.
Retained staff will be paid around £2,500 per year and the scheme will cost approximately £55,000 annually.
The decision came in the wake of demands by public and politicians. A report by the service made public on Tuesday revealed that there were 43 occasions in Shetland last year when the ambulance was not available and that Shetland’s provision was the worst in the three island authorities.
Meanwhile, ambulance cover will be enhanced by taking a “spare” ambulance in Lerwick back into service with immediate effect.
The spare vehicle is equipped to A&E standards and will be manned by existing staff working additional overtime on a voluntary basis.
When the new ambulance arrives in the summer, the spare will still be retained as back-up for times when either of the ambulances is out of action.
Acting SAS chief executive Pauline Howie said: “The plan is the result of several months of development and innovation and recognises the changes in demand and service provision that have occurred in Shetland.
“We are well aware of Shetlanders’ concerns about ambulance cover and believe this new way of working will make a significant impact, improving community resilience and patient safety.
“We hope to have the new model up and running as soon as possible, however it will take some months to recruit personnel and train them to the required standards.”
NHS Shetland chairwoman Betty Fullerton said: “I am pleased that the intensive work undertaken with SAS staff since January this year has led to the positive outcome today.
“I look forward to the arrival of the new ambulance and support the plan to base it in Brae as this is something we have considered with the ambulance service over a number of years. I also welcome the interim solution which has been offered.”
The recently-started First Responders schemes will still go ahead and the volunteers will be expected to the first on the scene after a 999 call.
See this week’s Shetland Times for full story