Page last updated at 16:29 GMT, Wednesday, 4 June 2008 17:29 UK

Single-staffed ambulances to end

Ambulance outside a hospital
Ms Sturgeon insisted the ambulance service preformed well

The Scottish Ambulance Service has been given a month to bring forward plans to end the single-staffing of its emergency ambulances.

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon made the order as she moved to address concerns within the service.

An independent probe has been ordered into allegations of bullying and harassment at the organisation.

But Ms Sturgeon told MSPs the service was performing "well" and that people should have confidence in it.

Her comments came less than two weeks after opposition claims in Holyrood that ambulance staff were under pressure and vacant shifts were not being covered because of budget restrictions.

The health secretary told parliament she expected an action plan on ending single-crewing to be brought forward by the end of June, adding "every effort" should be made to cover shifts in the meantime - without using budget issues as a reason not to do so.

Traditional accident and emergency ambulances should be double crewed, with at least one member being a paramedic, unless in exceptional circumstances
Nicola Sturgeon
Scottish health secretary

"I have made it clear to the Scottish Ambulance Service that it must take action to eliminate rostered single-manning," Ms Sturgeon told MSPs, making it clear the use of rapid response vehicles, designed to be manned by a single-paramedic, was also being looked at.

"The policy of the Scottish Government is clear - traditional accident and emergency ambulances should be double crewed, with at least one member being a paramedic, unless in exceptional circumstances.

"In too many practices, particularly in the Highlands, practice is not living up to that policy. That is not a new situation but it has to be addressed."

Ms Sturgeon has also asked the ambulance service to deliver an action plan on staff recruitment and retention and the methods used to evaluate the performance of the service will also be looked into.

The service will also need to take action on improving communication with staff and the public.

AMBULANCE ACTION PLAN
Proposal to end ambulance single-manning by end of June
Plan to address recruitment and retention issues
NHS Lanarkshire chairman to lead bullying probe
Review of performance improvement data
Scrap "traffic light" overtime plan
Progress report on single-crew rapid response vehicles
Improve staff and public communication

She also said plans for a so-called traffic light system to allocate of overtime in parts of the Highlands, which combined risk assessment with cost control, was "unacceptable" and would be scrapped.

Scottish Ambulance Service chief executive, Kevin Doran, and operations director, Grace Kennedy, have taken voluntary leave while an investigation into the bullying allegations, led by NHS Lanarkshire chairman Ken Corsar, is carried out.

But Ms Sturgeon stressed: "I want to emphasise that the Scottish Ambulance Service performs well.

"Those who work in it do a good job and the people of Scotland should have confidence in it."

Labour health spokeswoman MSP Margaret Curran, who raised concerns over unclean ambulances, overworked staff and a "culture of bullying and harassment beginning to emerge", welcomed Ms Sturgeon's action.

For the Tories, Mary Scanlon added: "I'm pleased that single-manning is being addressed and that the ambulance service are being listened to as they raised their concerns for the people that they serve."

Liberal Democrat Ross Finnie called for clarity over rapid response vehicles and staffing problems.

"Those issues are important issues and the breadth and range of this statement has indicated that there are a number of issues to be addressed," he told MSPs.


SEE ALSO
Ambulance 'bully' claims probed
29 May 08 |  Scotland
MSPs express ambulance concerns
22 May 08 |  Scotland
Ambulance workers 'could strike'
08 May 08 |  Highlands and Islands
Row over ambulance complaint rise
17 Mar 08 |  Scotland
Ambulance service in 25m boost
10 Mar 08 |  Scotland
MSPs consider ambulance demands
16 Jan 08 |  Tayside and Central
Ambulance call-out figures soar
05 Mar 07 |  Health
More patients face ambulance wait
09 Feb 07 |  Scotland

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