27 February 2003

S1M-03647 Ambulance Service (Wick)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr Murray Tosh): The final item of business is a members' business debate on the Wick ambulance service.
Motion debated,
That the Parliament recognises the vital work of the Wick ambulance service; is concerned at the lack of additional funding that was made available to the Highlands from the £22 million the Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) received for modernisation; notes the long on-call working regime that means ambulance crews are often on duty for as much as 20 hours at a time and are routinely required to make long journeys of over 200 miles; is further concerned that crews suffer from sleep deprivation, possibly endangering themselves, their passengers and other road users, and asks the Scottish Executive and the SAS to urgently review the on-call working arrangements at Wick Ambulance Station, where staff are paid less than 90p per hour for being on-call, with a view to upgrading it from part-time on-call to full-time.
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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I congratulate Jamie Stone on securing the debate on this important issue for his constituency.
As Jamie Stone said, there was when I was elected a similar situation in Fraserburgh. Until recently, Fraserburgh and Peterhead were the two busiest part-time ambulance stations in Scotland. I am delighted that after a long campaign—started by Alex Salmond and supported by local councillors—Fraserburgh became 24-hour station in December. Peterhead will be upgraded in the coming year. I look forward to visiting Fraserburgh station shortly.
There is absolutely no doubt about the commitment of staff in the Scottish Ambulance Service to doing a quality job. The throughput of work that the Fraserburgh service handles has doubled in 10 years and its staff must be given huge credit for handling that work load professionally and in an exemplary manner, even though Fraserburgh was a part-time station. While I have the minister's attention, I hope that she will tell me when Peterhead will become a 24-hour station. The commitment has been made, but the timetable has not yet been set.
Jamie Stone made an important point about the remoteness of Wick and the distances involved for the ambulance staff who work there. I have to drive only 171 miles to get home tonight; I am afraid that I cannot beat Jamie Stone on that. I drive 40,000 miles a year, so we might trade numbers on the subject later.
Although Peterhead and Fraserburgh were undoubtedly the busiest part-time stations in Scotland, it is probably important that the metrics dealt with the number of calls. The minister might care to consider that if Wick does not necessarily get as far up the list as Fraserburgh and Peterhead, the quality of calls that are attended to there might give Jamie Stone the right to make a special pleading for the staff. The distances that are involved for Wick staff are quite ferocious; I am sure that Jamie Stone has many cases from his files to which he can refer.
We must consider public service and the health and safety of ambulance staff. It is vital that we do not place staff in the position of working an arduous shift, then being on standby to work, in effect, another shift in areas such as those that are served by Wick, only for them to have to go to work again the following day. That makes Jamie Stone's point particularly relevant and important.
We cannot allow such situations to continue, either for the staff or for the people who live in the areas that part-time ambulance stations serve. Accidents can happen at any time of the day or night. In the far north, the nights in winter are especially long.
I wish Jamie Stone well in his campaign on behalf of his constituents in the far north. I take great pleasure in looking out over the 65 miles to Wick across the Moray firth. I hope that he has as much success with his campaign in Wick as I have been able to achieve in Fraserburgh. Well done, Jamie.

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