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More than 100 military personnel are set to come to the aid of the Scottish Ambulance Service, with drivers possibly in place by this weekend, Scotland’s Health Secretary has said.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced last week she would request help from the military to ease a backlog in the ambulance service which was causing long waits for patients.
On Tuesday, Health Secretary Humza Yousaf – who has been under fire as a result of the backlog – announced 88 drivers and 15 support staff could be called in, as well as a boost of £20 million to the ambulance service budget.
But an announcement from the UK Government just minutes after the Health Secretary made his statement said 114 drivers and support staff would be deployed in Scotland along with a further 111 to operate mobile testing units.
The announcement from Westminster also confirmed the staff would be deployed from Saturday, after the Health Secretary said in his statement a starting date was subject to final approvals.
When asked for clarification on the final number of personnel, the Scottish Government said the Ministry of Defence (MoD) would ultimately decide on the amount of staff deployed.
“I can confirm the request for military assistance was made immediately after First Minister’s Questions last Thursday,” he said.
“Officials have been working since then to finalise the package of support that the military will provide.
“This assistance will mainly consist of providing 88 drivers to free up our paramedics and technicians to focus solely on providing patients with the best clinical care. Fifteen support staff are also being requested meaning support in the form of 103 military personnel.
“There is still authorisation processes to go through, but we do not envisage any challenges with gaining the required approvals.
“All going well, some of those military personnel will be ready to be deployed and driving ambulances this weekend. My thanks to the Army for their responsiveness.”
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “Our armed forces are once again stepping up, demonstrating their versatility as we support the Covid-19 response across the UK.
“We are proud to work alongside the dedicated men and women at the Scottish Ambulance Service as they continue to provide a lifesaving service to the people of Scotland.
“Our commitment to provide rapid support to communities and civil authorities is being delivered alongside the deployment of thousands of personnel on operations around the world.”
Mr Yousaf also confirmed help has been granted from the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service again to increase driver numbers, while adding that taxi companies could be called in to help transport non-urgent patients.
I have also reached out to the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and I am glad to say, and in typical fashion, they have risen to our call
“I have also reached out to the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and I am glad to say, and in typical fashion, they have risen to our call,” he said.
“They will scale up the ambulance service’s access to volunteer firefighters and now also fulltime firefighters for driving, again with the view to providing more valuable paramedic and technician time on the front line.
“Immediate assistance however is not just being sought from the wider public sector.
“We have also brought support both from British Red Cross and as well as private contractors, such as taxi companies, to help with some of the ambulance service’s work where no emergency ambulance is required.”
The Health Secretary also sought to allay any possible fears that people in urgent need of care would be taken to hospital by taxi, saying: “Let me be absolutely clear, if you are in critical or life-threatening need you will be taken to hospital in an ambulance, if one is requested.
“Alternative transport arrangements are for those patients with low-acuity and patient safety will remain the number one priority.”
Some 100 second-year paramedic students, the Health Secretary added, would also be brought in to support call handling operations, while nine more hospital ambulance liaison officers will be hired to better co-ordinate emergency care.