THE Scottish Ambulance Service is being urged to declare a ‘major incident’ at hospitals where emergency patients are facing lengthy delays to be admitted due to sustained pressure on the NHS.

The demand has been made by Unite Scotland, amid concern patients are waiting an average of six hours from 999 call to hospital transfer.

According to a paramedic source, over the past two days an emergency patient was admitted 19 hours after the call was made.

The union said it was aware of several ‘adverse clinical events’ over the last 72 hours arising from the delays but no further detail was provided by the ambulance service.

The Herald revealed last week how paramedics were facing lengthy delays to transfer patients to A&E staff at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital with ambulances forced to queue outside the building.

Hospital turnarounds are said to have peaked at seven hours on Tuesday night with some patients waiting more than 24 hours for a bed after being admitted. 

A major incident is any occurrence that presents “serious threat to the health of the community and requires special emergency contingency measures to be put in place.

The status is currently normal but if the Scottish Ambulance Service does decide to elevate it then other public health bodies are required to immediately assist.

In practice, this means that NHS Scotland or community health workers may be required to attend to a patient in the community 

READ MORE: Emergency patients facing six hour waits to be admitted to Scotland's biggest hospital 

which could involve the setting up of clinical tents until paramedics are able to attend.
The Scottish Ambulance Service has said 

On average ambulance response to a 999 call can take between 55 minutes, and 1 hour and 10 minutes, from call to completion.

However, they are now said to be taking six hours on average due to NHS pressures and “system overload”. In real terms, this means an ambulance misses three 999 calls while located at a hospital waiting for patient discharges.  

The Scottish Ambulance Service said it has escalated its response including placing all clinically trained staff on frontline duties and treating more patients in the community.

In response to the six-hour claim by the union, a spokeswoman said median response time for purple calls (the highest response priority) was: 08:59. For all emergency calls, the response time was 19:51.

Unite has also raised concerns over the potential risk to patients over clinical decision making due to fatigued ambulance staff. 

Jamie McNamee, Unite Convenor at the Scottish Ambulance Service, said: “Unite has asked the Scottish Ambulance Service to declare a major incident status arising from excessive hospital turnaround times due to the significant impact on all outstanding 999 calls.

“The reality is that there are excessive waiting times for paramedics to attend to a patient in the community as they are being held up at hospitals.”

“On average the waiting time taken for an emergency call out to a 999 call has grown from around 1 hour to 6 hours to complete.  

“Due to the system overload in NHS Scotland, there is the potential for adverse clinical events to happen to patients in the community.

READ MORE: SNP accused of failing to support ambulance service amid growing waiting times 

“It’s essential that we elevate the status immediately because having ambulance crews tied up for extensive periods and subsequent fatigue, due to the long hours, is a known public safety issue.”

“Lives of both the public and the crews are being put at risk.”

It comes after The Herald told how ambulances waiting to transfer emergency patients were being being forced to queue outside the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital.

Nurses were said to be unable to accept handovers because beds are “at a premium” at the over-stretched A&E unit.

One crew is said to have waited outside the hospital from 6pm until midnight on Monday before they were able to transfer a Covid patient.

According to a paramedic source, the ambulance was one of seven off the road for hours and unable to respond to other emergencies.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said emergency departments and receiving units were seeing many more, sicker non-Covid patients than previously, added to increasing virus admissions.

This has been compounded by staff absences, and annual leave.

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Ambulance Service said: “The NHS is currently experiencing significant sustained pressure across Scotland due to hospitals operating at or near full capacity and staff abstractions.

“These capacity challenges are because of increased COVID-19 cases and increasing non-covid demand, and are causing lengthy hospital handover delays.

“In response to these pressures, we have escalated in line with our plans to maximise resource provision, placed all clinically trained staff on frontline duties, sought support from partners whilst working with health boards across Scotland to minimise delays.”