Scotland’s ambulance service and NHS faces the most challenging winter in a lifetime, Nicola Sturgeon has warned.
The First Minister told MSPs the coronavirus pandemic has left the health service feeling the pressure “acutely” but insisted the Scottish Government would be focused on resolving the worsening issues “every day” over the winter period.
Challenged repeatedly at First Minister’s Questions about reports of people waiting hours and even days for ambulances to attend emergencies, Ms Sturgeon acknowledged the situation was “not acceptable” but stressed there was work and investment attempting to address the problems.
She said: “The pandemic has created the most challenging conditions for our National Health Service probably since the National Health Service was created and that is being felt acutely in Scotland, it has been felt acutely in countries across the UK and the rest of the world.
“There are, right now, over 1,000 people in our hospitals with Covid.
“That puts additional pressure on our hospitals and that feeds through into longer turnaround times for ambulance services, and, of course, the ambulance service is often the frontline response for those who need hospital care – for Covid or for anything else.”
Asked by the Scottish Labour leader, Anas Sarwar, how long it will take to fix the crisis in the ambulance service, Ms Sturgeon replied: “We are facing probably the most challenging winter for the health service, and for society, in any of our lifetimes.”
She added: “This is going to be a responsibility of Government right through this winter to support our ambulance service, to support our accident and emergency departments, to support our wider health and social care services.
“Every day over this winter period, that will occupy my time, it will occupy the health secretary’s time and it will occupy the focus of the entire Government.”
Mr Sarwar responded: “We are going to have extra pressure over winter and if we can’t handle the pressure pre-winter, imagine how hard it is going to be when winter arrives?
“That’s the hard truth the First Minister is trying to ignore.
“But let’s be clear about this, our NHS staff, paramedics and call handlers are being failed too.
“They’re the ones having to answer those heart-breaking calls and tell patients there won’t be an ambulance coming anytime soon.
“They’re the ones having to turn up to homes to distressing things and expected to explain your Government’s failures.
“So let’s listen to the staff, they’re telling us there are not enough ambulances, they’re telling us the amount of staff in the ambulance service or at A&E, they’re telling us there are not enough beds in our hospitals.”