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‘Must Braemar have to fund its own ambulance?’: Fears over rural coverage in Cairngorms

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‘Significant issues’ have been raised over rural ambulance provision after it emerged one Cairngorms community could have to fundraise for its own vehicle.

At Holyrood yesterday afternoon, MSP Alexander Burnett warned of “major” funding problems for rural cover since Braemar was stripped of its own emergency medical service in 2007.

The area has since been covered by stations in Ballater, Tomintoul, Alford and Banchory, with local fire crews able to provide some emergency first aid as part of a “co-responder” scheme.

But the time has come to purchase a new 4×4 ambulance for Braemar, and last week the SAS’s chief executive said to politicians and residents that “the local community are keen to fundraise for this.”

Community’s response to crisis

Alongside this unit, the area is also home to the Braemar Community First Responders Initiative, started up by Doug Anderson.

It was launched after his wife Pamela suffered a heart attack on September 24, 2020 at her Braemar home, and died during ambulance transport.

The 74-year-old had to wait 40 minutes for a two-man crew from Tomintoul to take her – as the first ambulance to arrive only had one crew member.

‘Must communities fundraise for their own emergency medical provision?’

In the Scottish Parliament yesterday, Aberdeenshire West MSP Alexander Burnett said a lack of local cover has had tragic consequences – the death of Mrs Anderson is still being reviewed by ambulance chiefs.

Meanwhile his party, the Scottish Conservatives, have criticised health secretary Humza Yousaf for a suggestion that “people should think before calling 999”.

Health Secretary Humza Yousaf

Speaking at Holyrood, Mr Burnett said: “Braemar has had significant issues with ambulance services which have had tragic consequences.

“I have been in contact with the Scottish Ambulance Service and Braemar Community Council but a major issue is funding.

“They are looking at the cost of purchasing a 4×4 Caravelle ambulance to replace the existing co-responder van.

“Has it come to this, that communities are now so abandoned by the Scottish Government they must now fundraise for their own emergency medical provision?

“Or does the Cabinet Secretary endorse Humza Yousaf’s view that people in rural areas should think twice before calling 999?”

National review into demand and capacity

Finance Secretary Kate Forbes said the matter won’t “all be solved” through funding, adding that discussions on health spending are continuing ahead of next year’s budget.

“We’ve seen the ambulance service’s budget rise in real terms by 17.7% between 2011 and 2021,” she said.

“However, in light of the very serious issues [Mr Burnett] raises, I’m sure that if you were to raise that with the health secretary then the health secretary would look into the specifics.”

Finance Secretary Kate Forbes in Holyrood

Ms Forbes added: “Scotland’s ambulance service has been under significant pressure due to the pandemic, with ambulance staff at the forefront of our response.

“The service is currently carrying out our national review of demand and capacity, and that will ensure that the right resources are in place across the country – including in rural and remote areas – to help meet present, and more importantly, future demands.”

The Scottish Government made £10.5 million available last year and £20m this year to support the review.

Since the allocation of funds, the north has already gained 67 extra frontline staff, including experienced and newly-qualified paramedics, technicians and patient transport staff.

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