Scottish Ambulance needs call prioritisation system

9 Dec 99
The Scottish Ambulance Service should introduce a multi-million pound call prioritisation service as soon as possible, the National Audit Office said this week.

10 December 1999

In one of its last audit reports on Scotland, the NAO said the service was failing to meet its response time targets in many areas. Ambulance crews were dispatched on a first-come, first-served basis so the time taken to reach seriously ill patients was not significantly quicker than for less pressing cases.

The basis for deploying ambulances must be decided before moving on to tackle responsiveness, the office said.

A call prioritisation system, which is to be introduced in England before the end of 2001, would save lives. But the watchdog acknowledged this would be costly. Additional ambulances may be needed and it would cost several million pounds a year. In England, the Department of Health estimated implementation of the new system would cost between £15m and £50m a year.

Owen Clarke, the Scottish Ambulance Service's chairman, backed the NAO's call for priority dispatch. But he added: 'There has to be a great deal of careful preparatory work involving collaboration among a number of health care agencies before it can actually be introduced. Discussions and negotiations are already under way.'

The NAO praised the service for holding costs down, despite a 28% increase in 999 calls over the past five years. Unit costs were in line with those for other ambulance services.

Management costs accounted for 3.8% of total income in 1997/98 – lower than the 4% to 7.3% achieved by English ambulance services that year.


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