Ambulance emergency call-outs and the routine workload is as high in Shetland as other rural and island locations across Scotland.
However, according to MSP Tavish Scott the Lerwick ambulance station is under resourced, has inadequate training and puts local staff under increasing pressure.
Mr Scott is writing to the Scottish health minister demanding that Shetland and the local staff get a fair deal. He has met the Scottish Ambulance Service management to press for more training, more staff and a full time, 24/7 ambulance service that is operated by fully trained paramedics.
Mr Scott said he had been told by the Unite union that the service was meant to save £436,000 in the current financial year.
He said: “Shetland’s local ambulance staff are being put under pressure by their own management. The SAS have failed to invest in enough fully trained staff. Management have institutionalised on-call cover. That means in Shetland a 24/7 emergency call out is only achieved by staff overtime.
“Unlike other areas of Scotland paramedics are routinely called out to emergencies with a less trained member of staff. In evenings and weekends additional cover is provided by first responders, with only basic medical training. This puts an intolerable burden on the less qualified staff which is simply unacceptable.
“Local staff are operating under a ‘fatigue policy’ as a result of working overtime. But their workload has risen by 45 per cent since 2006 based on the SAS’s own figures. The Unite union point out that management propose to cut £436,000 from the budget covering the area including Shetland.
“Far from cuts the staff, the community and I want to see investment in Shetland. The service needs two or three new fully trained paramedics. That would then mean Shetland would have the same level of emergency cover as other island and rural areas.
“It is a testament to the efforts and commitment of the Shetland staff that the service runs as well as it does. But the ambulance service in Shetland fails both clinical and staff standards that the management expect in every other part of Scotland. So I want the Scottish health minister to intervene. The current situation is not safe, fair on staff or acceptable.”
Mr Scott said the local station based at Montfield in Lerwick failed staff and safety standards. He had met staff at the station and was concerned that management had dragged their feet on moving staff to a new location.
Mr Scott added: “A 999 emergency call out means the ambulances hurtling through a busy workplace car park and out onto Burgh Road. I have repeatedly asked the SAS whether they have done a risk assessment of this. They refuse to answer.
“The staff conditions are lamentable. So staff have been pressing for a new location on safety grounds. I am very disappointed how long it is talking SAS to do anything to move this forward.
“The sensible location would be at the Lerwick Fire Station. That is new, well-built and in an excellent location. Instead of endless delay, the SAS management must resolve this issue now.”
• For more on this story, see Friday’s Shetland Times.