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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 October 2007, 14:55 GMT 15:55 UK
Ambulance service 'under strain'
Concerns have been raised over rural ambulance cover
The ambulance service in the Highlands has been accused of facing a crisis with claims of increasing pressure on staff.

Union Unison and some GPs have voiced concern about demands on the 200 paramedics and technicians.

A key concern has been the issue of single-staff ambulances.

However, the Scottish Ambulance Service said getting a trained paramedic to a patient in the first place was the most important factor.

Dr Andreas Herfurt, a GP from Bettyhill, told BBC Radio's Scotland Live programme that lives could be lost as a result of staff pressures.

He has called for single-manned ambulances to be scrapped, claiming that they were not sufficient for dealing with all emergencies.

The patient can be moved with one ambulance and two crew, regardless of if they are a paramedic or not
Dr Chris Duckham,
Highlands GP

He said: "If we need an ambulance out of hours in an emergency it can take up to two hours until the patient is actually transported off the patch.

"We cannot move the patient to anywhere because there is only one ambulance and I, as a GP, have to remain on the patch, and you're waiting in excess of an hour and a half, two hours, to actually have adequate onward transport to a hospital facility.

"This can lead to patients sometimes being five hours in transit before they actually reach a hospital."

Fellow GP Dr Chris Duckham endorsed those comments and said: "The patient can be moved with one ambulance and two crew, regardless of if they are a paramedic or not."

'Totally unacceptable'

Resident Sandy Mackay, also from Bettyhill, has suffered an aneurism and said he twice faced lengthy delays in getting an ambulance.

He described ambulance cover on the north west coast of Sutherland as "totally unacceptable".

Unison claimed up to 12 out of 18 ambulance stations in the Highlands could be single-staffed at some points.

The ambulance service said there were financial pressures but those pressures were compounded by a lack of staff willing to work in remote areas.

However, Robert Cockburn, general manager of the Scottish Ambulance Service in the Highlands, said that the service was meeting 95% of its targets.

He said: "Currently the average time in the Highlands and Islands for a life-threatening call sits around nine minutes for a response.

"To suggest that there is a crisis in the provision of services in the Highlands and Islands is a comment too far."

This story was featured on Scotland Live on BBC Radio Scotland on Thursday, 4 October.

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