27 October 2020

S5M-22506 Student Paramedics (Bursary Support)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-22506, in the name of Liam McArthur, on paying student paramedics. The debate will conclude without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes the campaign to introduce bursary support for student paramedics from Orkney and across Scotland; appreciates the pivotal role that paramedics have played in meeting the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, and that student paramedics have stepped up at a time of great need; acknowledges that student paramedics, unlike student nurses and midwives, currently have no access to a bursary scheme to support them during their degree course; notes that the campaign has been started by a group of student paramedics to highlight this discrepancy and press for equivalent funding to be made available to all Scottish student paramedics; understands that student paramedics are expected to work the same hours as a fully qualified paramedics and therefore have limited time to take on additional work to fund their studies; believes that the lack of financial support discourages many young people, particularly those from low-income families, from considering a career as a paramedic; understands that the Pay Student Paramedics campaign has highlighted that, last year, the Scottish Ambulance Service was unable to cover 42,000 shifts; further understands that there were calls on the Scottish Government to do more to widen access to this key profession within Scotland’s health service by offering financial assistance to trainee paramedics through a bursary scheme, and believes that this would be fair recognition of the contribution that paramedics make to the NHS.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I congratulate Liam McArthur on securing this evening’s debate on a subject that is important not just in Orkney but right across Scotland. It is particularly important to rural areas such as the one that I represent. I express my unreserved support for the sentiment of the motion, without necessarily agreeing with every word that Liam McArthur said.

I will start by making the point that we must recognise the immense stress that paramedics face. In some ways, I am an amateur—over the years, I have attended road accidents on three occasions simply through being present by accident. On one of those occasions, there were two fatalities. Therefore, on a tiny level, I understand some of the pressure that the young people concerned are under.

In the ordinary world, the stress on the profession is significant, but in the current circumstances it is even higher. That is compounded by the fact that we are talking about students rather than people who are fully qualified, seasoned veterans of many years’ experience or people who have learned to cope with and face situations that most people would struggle with. They are at the beginning of their career journey and are only beginning to build the personal resilience that they will need throughout their time as paramedics.

The stress that comes with the profession is augmented by the stresses of student life, which include the demands of having to learn and to pass exams. As we heard from Liam McArthur, student paramedics’ placement activity causes disruption because it is not neatly fitted in with the learning activities that they must undertake and the need that many students have to earn some outside income to supplement their student means. In addition, like others in the profession, they will experience loneliness, overwork and a degree of uncertainty, and they will do so to a much greater extent in the era of Covid-19.

Despite that, there are people up and down Scotland who are working courageously on the front line with the emergency services during the current pandemic. They are doing so on a full-time basis, near enough, and they are unpaid. They are essential, front-line staff in the pandemic.

Are there ramifications of that? Others have suggested that student paramedics are given a hard choice between doing additional jobs and living in poverty. In either case, that is a source of considerable stress. How might they respond to that? We might lose some of them to other careers. That would be deeply regrettable, and we do not want that to happen. Is there competition for jobs at the moment? Yes, there is, but that is no excuse for approaching the issue in a way that could be considered to be exploitative.

All those factors are important considerations in enabling people to stay in the profession and progress their professional qualification, and in encouraging others to come and join them in the role. The Ambulance Service has suffered from a shortage of paramedics. Liam McArthur talked about Orkney being left without an ambulance for two hours. The geography of the north-east of Scotland is such that that area, too, can be without an ambulance for two hours, because if the single ambulance in Banff, my nearest town, has gone to Aberdeen, it will be away for that length of time. The problems of island communities are ones that other communities are familiar with.

The Scottish Government has not been ignoring the issue, and I am sure that we will hear more on that from the minister. The Government has explicitly stated that it is reviewing the education of allied health professionals—a broader sweep of activity than the subject of tonight’s debate—which is an important and necessary first step.

However, 2020 has added significantly to the need for progress on the issue. I agree that there is a need for adequate consideration of what is right for paramedics and auxiliary health professionals. I very much support the debate as a useful opportunity to explore the issues, and I thank Liam McArthur once again.


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