The Shetland Mainland is to be covered by two ambulances 24 hours a day, seven days a week within the next two months, the Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) has confirmed.
At an NHS Shetland board meeting on Monday, SAS representatives explained that six volunteers have now been recruited in Lerwick while a further three full-time staff will also be taken on to ensure that ambulance coverage is doubled up at all times.
It follows an abortive attempt to recruit volunteers in the Brae area last year, prompted by mounting public discontent over a string of potentially life-threatening instances where the single ambulance crew had been unable to attend emergencies because they were already dealing with another incident.
In recent months, a second crew has been provided through the day by relying on the “goodwill” of existing staff members working overtime, allowing them to be called out off-duty. But as recently as last month, an oil worker who had suffered a heart attack had to be taken to hospital in a car rental van after the ambulance failed to arrive on time.
Two new volunteers are now fully trained, with a further two due to complete their training by May, enabling the SAS to provide a retained service between 8am and 5pm from Monday to Friday and all weekend. Outside of those hours, there will be a second crew on call. The changes will entail an additional £70,000 cost to the SAS, which it says has been found from elsewhere within its budget.
At the meeting in Lerwick Town Hall, SAS head of island services Andy Fuller said there had been a “fairly frantic few weeks and months” but that he was very pleased that efforts to recruit new volunteers were finally bearing fruit.
Mr Fuller admitted the lack of readily available volunteers had been both “a surprise and a challenge”, adding that the SAS still hopes to further increase the number of volunteers as the year progresses. He said the proportion of incidents responded to within eight minutes had increased to 47.9 per cent this year, compared with 44.7 per cent in the same period last year, and he hopes to see that figure improve to over 50 per cent in the months ahead.