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Police officers have been transporting patients to hospitals and attending medical emergencies because of a lack of available ambulances or long waits for paramedics. The revelations were outlined in police reports revealed by the Scottish Police Federation and 1919 in partnership with the Scottish Parliamentary Journalists Association.
Last night, opposition leaders challenged Scotland Health Secretary Humza Yousaf to get a “grip of the crisis”.
It comes just weeks after Mr Yousaf urged Scots to “think twice” before calling 999 for an ambulance and official figures revealed A&E waiting time performance again hit a record low.
Last month, the Scottish First Minister was also forced to call in the British army to help drive ambulances amid deteriorating response times and warnings about driver shortages from the ambulance service.
Police reports filed by officers revealed on one occasion, a man who was bleeding from the inner ear and head faced at least a three-hour wait for an ambulance following an assault.
The findings put further pressure on the Scottish Government
A rise in COVID-19 cases is putting strain on the Scottish NHS
On another occasion, an unconscious man who had attempted to take his own life by overdose ended up being driven to hospital in a police car because no ambulance had attended more than an hour after being called.
A third occasion revealed no ambulance was available to attend after an elderly person was left bleeding heavily after a dog bite.
Separately, police officers working in the west of Scotland were advised in early August that the average wait for an ambulance would be eight hours.
In one incident, the ambulance service reportedly calling for the police to help with a woman whose motorbike had fallen on her, leaving her with an open compound fracture of her lower leg.
The police log read: “A local off duty nurse is with her but as the ambulance will not be able to attend for two hours the SAS (Scottish Ambulance Service) let us know, despite it being a medical matter and their lack of resources doesn’t change what it is.
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Health Secretary Humza Yousaf is under pressure over the crisis
“They ask if we can attend (not sure what for) however the duty sergeant has no units and not sure what assistance they could be if he did.”
Gordon Forsyth from the Scottish Police Federation said: “Cops out there are taking people to hospital in the back of police cars simply because the ambulance is going to be hours, or there isn’t anybody suitable to leave the person with and stand down.
Mr Forsyth said he had a list of 30-odd examples where officers have been sent to medical related calls.
He added: “It all goes back to the question of: where does the policing responsibility stop and start?
“These are medical incidents, they’re not policing incidents or criminal activity. Officers are being left to fill gaps.”
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Police officers were called to medical incidents
Scottish Conservative health spokesperson Dr Sandesh Gulhane MSP, said: “Humza Yousaf’s failure to get a grip of the crisis in the ambulance service is now having a detrimental effect on other heroic emergency service personnel.
“He should never have let it reached a point where police officers are routinely having to support ambulance crews.”
Dr Gulhane said police cannot have “vital work being disrupted as a result of our ambulance service not having the resources they require.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “Police officers will be the first to tell you they will do their best but simply aren’t equipped or trained for this job.
“They shouldn’t have shifts consumed by serious medical incidents.
Alex Cole-Hamilton, Scottish Lib Dem leader
“The pressure on emergency care is painfully clear, with long waits, the deployment of the military and now police officers saying they have had to provide cover too. It is a symptom of a service on its knees because SNP ministers ignored the warnings.”
Police Scotland’s chief constable said was a chance of “disruption” to the force’s non-emergency response times if the situation gets worse.
Iain Livingstone added: “It is my responsibility and duty as chief constable to highlight that our non-emergency response times continue to be affected by high demand.
“Bluntly, there is potential for further disruption should pressure on other agencies and services persist and become more acute, particularly as the country prepares for COP26.”
But the Scottish Ambulance Service disputed the reports and made clear they do not expect officers to assist with 999 calls or transport patients to hospital.
Chief Constable Iain Livingstone of Police Scotland
A spokesperson added: “Police officers are only requested to attend cardiac arrest calls as a first response in the north of Scotland and they are immediately backed up by an ambulance resource.
“This is line with pre-pandemic co-responding agreements. In no other situation would police officers attend ambulance 999 calls or be asked to transport patients to hospital.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Scotland is well served by its police service, and its hardworking, dedicated and professional officers and staff who have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic.
“As the Scottish Ambulance Service have previously set out, they do not ask police officers to attend emergency situations instead of an ambulance crew or transport patients to hospital.
“For all 999 calls, the ambulance service will always dispatch the nearest, most appropriate response.”