Overworked paramedics say they have been forced to leave their station unmanned for hundreds of hours as they take time off for fatigue.
Exhausted employees at Dufftown claim they are regularly unable to continue working amid gruelling shifts which can last 72 hours.
Between July and this month, the station lost 790 hours – equating to 33 full days – as staff booked time off through tiredness.
Paramedics claim the situation has worsened since Keith lost its night cover six years ago, with staff there now only working from noon to 10pm.
The problems were exacerbated in 2014 when Buckie’s second vehicle, which was operated between 4pm and midnight four days a week, was axed.
Such shortages are said to create a ripple effect, where crews from across the north-east are deployed to emergencies far outwith their own patches.
The situation came to a head last March, when an Elgin crew was called to answer an emergency which otherwise would have been handled by the Dufftown crew.
While the Elgin vehicle was out in Speyside, 16-year-old Keiran McKandie was fatally struck by a car on the outskirts of the town.
A crew from Tomintoul, which had been handing over a patient to medics at Dr Gray’s Hospital, was first on the scene.
But it arrived 27 minutes after the accident was reported – nearly four times the Grampian region average for responding to such emergencies.
Unite the Union regional officer, Tommy Campbell, said the situation was “extremely worrying”.
Mr Campbell said: “This is having an impact on the staff personally, and on the level of response available to the public should anything serious happen.
“There needs to be more recruitment at this station, to make sure that the paramedics there are not fatigued and don’t need all this time off.
“Nobody wants a member of the ambulance service attending an incident when they are absolutely knackered.
“That would be dangerous to themselves, other road users and patients.
“Responsibility for this clearly lies with management and they must work harder to ensure the safety of their employees.”
The Dufftown station is operated via an on-call system, with a roster of seven full-time employees and two relief workers, but 59% of those calls come during the night.
As Saturday night is typically the busiest of the week, Dufftown paramedics are often called to back-to-back 999 calls from other towns into the small hours.
This means that the station is most commonly left unattended on Sundays.
One paramedic, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “That fatigue time has been clocked up in just five-and-a-half months, which shows there isn’t enough staff in Dufftown to run the service 24/7.
“It’s quite a colossal figure, as that vehicle covers a huge patch.
“If other Moray crews are transferring patients or on 999 calls, then the area can be reliant on crews from Huntly or Nairn.”
Speyside Glenlivet councillor, Mike McConnachie, said he has previously raised concerns about Dufftown personnel being overworked with Scottish Ambulance Service bosses – but had been told things were improving.
He added: “It’s disappointing to hear that these problems persist, I had been promised that it was going to improve.
“This is obviously a worry for people in Speyside, and I will press for more staff to be hired as soon as possible.”
The SAS did not reply to specific questions about cover in Dufftown, but vowed that more staff would be recruited to fill gaps in the Grampian area.
North division general manager, Milne Weir, said: “We are recruiting, training and deploying 30 new paramedics in the
Grampian area in addition to four specialist paramedics – two in Elgin and two in Aberdeen.”