Nine out of ten people requiring urgent medical assistance outside of Lerwick and Scalloway are not being seen within the target times set by the Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS).
That is according to figures obtained by The Shetland Times this week under a Freedom of Information (FoI) request.
Disclosure of the failure to meet targets in over 90 per cent of life-threatening incidents in those communities comes after a two-car crash between Brae and Voe in August resulted in firefighters being told not to drive ambulances back from emergencies.
That instruction was given by assistant chief officer at the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, Lewis Ramsay, who said that fire crews were not insured to drive vehicles owned by the ambulance service.
The fire service this week has said it is looking at whether firefighters in rural areas can drive ambulances.
Mr Ramsay said: “The safety of our communities and our firefighters is of paramount importance to the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and our operational policies are designed to ensure that we deliver this at all times.
“We are committed to working with our Unions and our counterparts in the Scottish Ambulance Service to agree national arrangements that will enable local flexibility and delivery.
“We are actively seeking meetings to identify how we can now train our personnel to assist the staffing needs of the SAS in rural communities.
“Where a safe solution can be identified, one that also allows the SFRS to maintain critical fire cover in rural communities, we will work towards putting the necessary mechanisms in place – as quickly as possible.”
Last week John Gold, the taxi driver rescued from the wreckage said that he would not have survived if it had not been for the firefighters driving the ambulance to the Gilbert Bain Hospital.
Information released by the ambulance service this month further highlights the importance of the emergency services in Shetland working together to save lives, with the majority of Shetland’s ZE2 postcode falling outside of the eight-minute target for an ambulance to respond from Lerwick.
In 2016 just six of the 63 category A incidents – those deemed to be “potentially immediately life-threatening” – were attended within the eight-minute target set by the service.
At the time the service’s target was to attend 75 per cent of category A incidents within eight minutes. They also aimed to attend 95 per cent of category B – “serious but not immediately life-threatening” – incidents within 19 minutes.
In the ZE1 postcode, covering Lerwick and Scalloway, the service has generally met these targets. But those reporting category B incidents in rural communities, on the other hand, were being seen within 19 minutes under 50 per cent of the time.
Vice-chairman of the community safety and resilience board, Allison Duncan, said that he was “extremely disappointed” by the figures.
The councillor, who last month intervened in the dispute between ambulance driving firefighters and their superiors, said: “There’s questions that need to be asked and answers given and I will honestly be asking the questions now.”
Mr Duncan said that in “remoter areas you have to accept that you’re living in a difficult location” but questioned whether more could be done to improve response times within the ZE2 postcode, particularly in communities serviced by A class roads.
Asked whether Shetland could benefit from more strategically placed ambulance stations Mr Duncan said he was unsure if the ambulance service could cope with the “staffing requirements” of such an operation.
Meanwhile, the SAS said that measures are in place in remote communities which are designed to “positively impact on patient outcomes”.
These include a network of community first responders and a list of public access defibrillators which call handlers can direct people towards in the event of an emergency.
A spokesperson for the SAS said: “The Scottish Ambulance Service is committed to providing a safe and effective level of cover on Shetland at all times.
This is why we recruited six additional members of staff to enable us to increase cover.
“Community first responder schemes are a vital part of the service in remote and rural communities and we recently made changes to the training programme to enhance the clinical skills of our responders to positively impact on patient outcomes.”
The statement adds: “Our national community resilience manager recently visited Shetland with his team to work with local communities to establish sustainable solutions to the challenges posed by Shetland’s unique geography.
“These include additional community first responder schemes in Sandwick and Bixter, CPR training and the promotion of public access defibrillators.”
A list of public access defibrillators can be found online at https://l2bhshetland.wixsite.com/shetlanddefibs, whilst anyone wishing to register a defibrillator with the ambulance service can do so here http://www.scottishambulance.com/YourCommunity/pad.aspx
• Since November last year the ambulance service has used a new system for target response times. There were not enough figures available to draw any conclusions.