Highland ambulance waiting times revealed

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Five times more people in the Highlands are waiting more than an hour for an ambulance than in 2018, following an upward national trend, new figures have revealed.

The statistics, released by a Freedom of Information request, show ambulance waiting times across Scotland and its regions each year from 2018-2019 to 2021-2022.

Over the four-year period in the NHS Highlands area, twice as many of the most seriously ill patients are now waiting under 10 minutes for an ambulance.

However, roughly five times more of the least seriously ill patients are now waiting more than an hour.

The Scottish Ambulance Service’s (SAS) triage system places patients into one of four categories.

The most critically ill patients, those most at risk of dying, are placed in the purple category. Patients who are less at risk of a cardiac arrest, but still need urgent medical attention, are placed in red. The target waiting times for both are eight minutes.

Patients in lower categories – amber, then yellow – will sometimes experience a slower ambulance response, generally because SAS will be prioritising its resources on patients in the purple and red categories. The target waiting time for amber and yellow is 19 minutes.

Counting the incidents across all four categories, Highlands and Islands MSP Donald Cameron said: ‘To have seen an increase from 500 to more than 2,500 people having to wait over an hour is very worrying, especially with the trend going upwards every year since 2018.

‘Even worse is an alarming rise from 100 to nearly 700 patients waiting for more than two hours, which must be stressful, especially for those in pain or discomfort. This is compounding very serious anxiety about increasing waiting terms at accident and emergency departments across the region.

‘SNP ministers need to give their undivided attention to this situation before it gets even worse.’

A Scottish Ambulance Service spokesperson said: ‘Our latest statistics show our median response time for our most serious calls across the country is currently six minutes 47 seconds and that 30-day survival rates for our most seriously ill patients are at their highest ever level.

‘The response times quoted regarding purple and red calls relate to where calls have started as a lower call category, for example amber or yellow, and were then upgraded.

‘Our aim is to continually reduce response times and we have recently recruited an extra 540 new front line staff to help boost our capacity.’

A Scottish Government spokesperson added: ‘We are determined to ensure the Scottish Ambulance Service has the resources and skilled staff in place to continue to deliver a high quality service. Patient safety remains our number one priority.

‘The pandemic has been the biggest challenge the NHS has faced in its 73-year existence and has heaped pressure on our ambulance service and wider NHS.

‘These figures demonstrate that while there are approximately the same number of incidents being responded to in 2021/22 compared to 2018/19, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of the most serious incidents.

‘In four years, the number of purple incidents responded to in under 10 minutes was up by more than 70 per cent and the number responded to in under 30 minutes doubled.

‘Our increased investment has seen record recruitment of 540 additional ambulance staff in 2021/22 with further recruitment of 574 staff planned for this year, ensuring the service is working as efficiently as possible.’