Two paramedics from Moray have won a legal test case that could have major ramifications for the ambulance service in rural areas of Scotland.
Relief ambulance paramedics Paul Truslove and Ellouise Wood both worked from Elgin but were, at times, required to be on call during the night to cover the Dufftown and Tomintoul areas, where only day shift cover is provided.
Both pursued the Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) for compensation over a breach of their rest entitlements under the 1998 Working Time Regulation having accumulated 97 and 48 consecutive working hours respectively.
The original Employment Tribunal (ET) judged that despite on-call paramedics having to relocate to accommodation within three miles of the local station and to respond to emergencies within a target time of three minutes, this was still defined as a rest period.
This previous judgement has now been ruled as an error of law and on-call duties defined as working time.
The turnaround was yesterday hailed a “significant victory” by trade union Unite who branded the previous ruling “ludicrous”.
The union’s regional industrial officer Tommy Campbell said: “The original ET judgement that time spent by technicians and paramedics on-call and away from home to fulfil geographical and time-bound requirements for the provision of patient care as a rest period was, frankly, ludicrous.
“The ruling to overturn the original judgement and clearly define on-call duty as working time not only protects the right of our ambulance technicians and paramedics to a proper compensatory rest period but also ensures we have the best standards for patient safety too.
“This process once again highlights the need for a fully resourced and fully funded SAS – something the Scottish Government has readily acknowledged in the past – and reinforces our arguments that investment and protection of workers at the coalface of the service should be a priority.”
Ambulance cover hit the headlines in 2010 when trainee technician Owen McLauchlan chose not to respond to a 999 call after Mandy Mathieson suffered a cardiac arrest at her home, “two minutes” from his depot at Tomintoul in Moray while he was on a rest break.
Yesterday, a Scottish Ambulance Service spokesman would not be drawn on whether extra paramedics would have to be recruited.
He said: “We are working through implementation plans, in partnership with staff representatives, to ensure that appropriate ambulance cover will be maintained.”