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Lib Dems attack the new emergency call-out classification system

Alex Cole-Hamilton, Liberal Democrat MSP for the constituency of Edinburgh Western
Alex Cole-Hamilton, Liberal Democrat MSP for the constituency of Edinburgh Western

THE Lib Dems have attacked the Scottish Government over changes to the way emergency call-outs are classified.

A shake-up of ambulance services will see the proportion of emergencies deemed to require the fastest call-out cut by almost three-quarters.

The Scottish Ambulance Services said the new system “will save lives” and be aimed at prioritising life-threatening calls such as car crashes and cardiac arrest.

But chiefs admitted the proportion
of calls requiring the fastest response time – eight minutes – will fall by 74%.

The new model has three levels.

  • Immediately life-threatening calls, such as a cardiac arrest, will maintain the current eight-minute target;
  • Calls requiring a fast response and transfer to a healthcare facility will be prioritised by clinical need and receive a blue-light response but with no time target;
  • Other calls will be “managed safely at home” or by referral to GPs, NHS 24 or social care services.

The first category includes serious road accidents, patients unconscious and not breathing, and pregnant or very young patients, while the second category includes people with chest pains, breathing problems or stroke symptoms.

The service said the trial is based on clinical data compiled over a year, but the move only came to light after a Freedom of Information request by the Lib Dems. MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “These new figures reveal that the number of calls requiring an eight-minute response is set to be cut by almost three-quarters as the service prioritises those calls which are the most urgent.

“In August, Scottish Liberal Democrats highlighted the pressure our ambulance service was under when we uncovered that over 4000 of the most urgent call-outs took longer than 20 minutes for an ambulance to arrive. If this system can avoid this happening and ensure crews get to those suffering cardiac arrests or in car crashes even quicker, then it is worth piloting.

“Every second counts when people are critically ill. While this system has potential, it must not be seen as a substitute for ensuring SNP ministers give the service the support it needs.”

Scottish Ambulance Service chief executive Pauline Howie defended the move. She said: “Our new response model is being introduced to save more lives and improve quality of care. The model is based on the most extensive, clinically-evidenced review of its kind ever undertaken in the UK, involving almost 500,000 cases. This review will help us send the right response based on health needs.

“We will be able to respond faster to more patients with time-critical, immediately life-threatening conditions, such as cardiac arrest. These are patients who may only have minutes to live without intervention.”

Chief Medical Officer Catherine Calderwood added: “I am persuaded by the clinical evidence and know patient safety is at the heart of these changes.

“We’ll keep these changes under close review over the next 12 months to ensure we are seeing the improvements to patient safety and patient outcomes that are expected.”


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