The Scottish Government has announced plans to improve ambulance cover in Moray.
Concerns have been repeatedly raised that the area’s two ambulances are being diverted away after transferring patients to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.
Currently, the paramedics can sent to a job in the city, delaying their return to Moray and stretching the limited resources even further.
Now Health Secretary Jeane Freeman has confirmed that this will no longer happen – with paramedics allowed to return straight back to their base unless there is a life-threatening call.
The trial will start next month, and has previously been carried out in Skye.
Ms Freeman said: “The Scottish Ambulance Service recently carried out a trial in Skye whereby ambulances carrying out transfers to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness were only tasked with calls in the City after transferring the patient if these calls were immediately life threatening or time conscious (i.e. an amber call for a stroke patient).
“The service will complete their evaluation of this trial this month and has already began preparing historical data from the Moray area to enable them to extend the trial to Elgin ambulance station in October.”
There are only two active ambulances in Elgin, with only one of those active for 24 hours, with the other one in operation for just eight hours.
A lack of staff has also affected the service, with one Tomintoul worker previously claiming they had to work a 36-hour shift due to shortages.
Moray MSP Richard Lochhead has long campaigned for additional resources for the Moray ambulance service and has held meetings with the Scottish Ambulance Service about his concerns over the increasing pressure on crews in the region.
He said: “I’m pleased to learn that a trial is now set to begin in October, which will see Elgin crews return to Moray immediately, with the exception of life-saving or time-conscious calls in Aberdeen.
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“Moray-based ambulances must be available first and foremost to serve the local population and staff are being run ragged given the amount of time being spent on shift answering calls in Aberdeen.
“This trial has the potential to improve the service for patients in Moray and to reduce pressure on the local crews. The sooner these changes are made the better and it is important that this policy applies to all Moray-based emergency ambulances.”
This news will come as a small boost to Moray locals as the maternity ward downgrade at Dr Gray’s Hospital has meant more women are transferred to Aberdeen or Inverness causing extra strain for the region’s paramedics.
Campaign group Keep Mum welcomed the ambulance trial but were still gravely concerned about the safety issues surrounding the transport of patients from Elgin to elsewhere.
Kirsty Watson, from the group, said: “We welcome the news regarding the changes to the ambulance service, however, we still have grave ongoing concerns on the safety issues which we have already been highlighted regarding transporting of patients who would ordinarily be seen at Dr Gray’s.
“Over recent weeks and months, more and more concerning stories are being documented. As we move towards winter, our concerns turn to the conditions on the A96 and how difficult and dangerous this time will be.
“Changes to the ambulance service do not change these worries. We still need serious action from NHS Grampian and the Scottish Government to tackle the ongoing issues with health services in Moray.
“As yet, we still have no news on the plan to put the service right which is totally unacceptable to us and the people of Moray.”
A spokesman for the Scottish Ambulance Service said: “Ensuring local patients have the ambulance resources they need is our priority, which is why we are supporting this trial. We are also investing in training 1,000 new paramedics over five years and specifically recruiting more staff in the north of Scotland.
“This will include eight new staff for our station in Elgin, new specialist paramedic posts in Grampian and new posts for our station in Dufftown which will be changing from being on call to being covered 24/7.”