SCOTLAND is set to roll out the first electric ambulance in the UK later this year, it has emerged. 

Pauline Howie, chief executive of the Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS), told MSPs that the service is finalising plans to "prototype" the vehicle. 

It is unclear where it will be deployed, but Ms Howie said she expected to be able to introduce the electric ambulance to the fleet by the end of this year. 

READ MORE: 'Code red' ambulance patient waited longer than six hours 

Giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament's health and sport committee, Ms Howie said that SAS is "looking at electric vehicles and we're about to prototype the first UK electric ambulance here in Scotland". 

Asked for further details by committee member and Conservative MSP, Dr Sandesh Gulhane, Ms Howie said the plan was "very much under development at the moment".

The Herald: SAS chief executive Pauline Howie giving evidence to the Health and Sport Committee on June 20 2023SAS chief executive Pauline Howie giving evidence to the Health and Sport Committee on June 20 2023 (Image: Scottish Parliament TV)

She added: "We expect it to be introduced to our fleet by the end of the year.

"We haven't publicised that yet with the manufacturer so there's very little more I can say, because I know that the manufacturer is desperate to do a proper launch with us, but they are content not to be named today but for me to mention that we are the first ambulance service in the UK to actually bring an electric ambulance into service by the end of this year.

"Obviously we need the range in Scotland to be significant, because our ambulance fleet covers a significant number of miles.

"Not just in the rural areas, but in our urban areas too typically we might cover 10 patients a day and the fleet can stop and start in several areas and even across cities be redeployed across the whole of Glasgow, for example, or the whole of Edinburgh.

"So our fleet does cover significant miles and that is one of the areas we've been working with manufacturers on - to get a fleet that's got sufficient range to enable us to be confident that it can indeed satisfy our requirements."

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Ms Howie added that SAS is also speaking to vehicle manufacturers "to identify more carbon efficient ways of running our vehicle fleet". 

It comes as the latest performance statistics for SAS show that response times for the most critically ill patients are still being missed, despite improvements. 

The most urgent cases are patients categorised as 'purple', who are at highest risk of cardiac arrest, followed by 'code red' patients who are rated as having a 1-9.9 per cent risk of cardiac arrest. 

Purple callouts are supposed to achieve a median response time of six minutes, rising to seven minutes for red. 

In the week beginning June 5, ambulance crews were typically on the scene of purple emergencies in around seven and a half minutes, or just over eight minutes for red callouts, although in Dumfries and Galloway the median response time for purple callouts was nearly 14 minutes. 

Ms Howie said turnaround times outside A&E departments continue to be the "single biggest issue" behind delays. 

In the week beginning June 5, the median turnaround time for ambulances waiting to hand patients over to emergency departments was just under 43 minutes, but one in 10 patients spent more than an hour and 33 minutes waiting in an ambulance outside A&E. 

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In some parts of the country this was much more pronounced. 

For patients taken to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, the median handover time was one hour and 10 minutes, rising to three and a half hours for one in 10 patients. 

There were also significant delays in ambulance turnaround outside University Hospital Ayr and University Hospital Wishaw, where one in 10 patients took two hours 22 minutes or three hours respectively to be offloaded into A&E. 

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The delays reflect bed availability within A&E, which in turn signals how full wards are within the hospital. 

Ms Howie said it was a key priority for SAS to reduce the costs of overtime associated with handover delays, which had been "significantly higher during Covid".

She said: "Our ambulance staff spend longer at the front door of hospitals which adds to the time to complete each patient cycle and frequently results in staff being held back at the end of their shifts which results in more overtime.

"We're working with other boards very closely to try to identify other ways in which we can more safely and effectively manage those patients at the front door and ensure that our staff get finished their shifts on time too to reduce our overtime costs."