Fears over growing strains on ambulance service

© DC Thomson
MSP Liz Smith.

Ambulance crews were called out to nearly 2,000 mental health incidents across Tayside, Fife and Forth Valley in 2016.

Conservative MSP Liz Smith believes this is leading to an increased strain on ambulance resources and could hinder the way paramedics deal with other emergencies.

Crews attended 1,898 incidents where the main complaint was of psychiatric distress, slightly up from 1,805 in 2015.

In Fife there were 723 such call outs in 2016, a slight rise of 10 from the previous year and in Tayside there was a small reduction from 578 to 561. In Forth Valley the number rose by 100 to 614 cases.

The Mid Scotland and Fife MSP said that in Tayside the integration of mental health services has been criticised in some quarters for failing to offer enough out-of-hours support for those undergoing mental health emergencies.

A consultation on moving all general adult psychiatry acute admissions for the region to Dundee’s Carseview Centre — resulting in the relocation of the Mulberry Unit in the Susan Carnegie Centre at Stracathro  — ended in October.

The survey also asked for views on the relocation of learning disability services from Carseview and Strathmartine Hospital to wards at Murray Royal Hospital in Perth.

A final decision on the changes will be made early in the new year.

Several community and support groups expressed “major” concerns about rural patients’ ability to access services should changes go ahead, according to Ms Smith.

She claimed any impact on the ability of rural patients to access services could potentially place more strain on an already stretched ambulance service.

Chief officer for Perth and Kinross Health and Social Care Partnership Robert Packham said that along with NHS Tayside they were committed to providing “high quality 24 hour, seven days per week assessment and treatment for patients with mental illness who present in crisis”.

“We are looking at where the demand for support is and looking at potential solutions in partnership with local authorities, transport organisations and voluntary organisations,” he said.

A Scottish Government spokesperson added: “The Scottish Ambulance Service are working closely with mental health services to provide the highest possible level of care for vulnerable patients, including those who are experiencing a mental health crisis.”