More than 16,000 scheduled ambulance journeys were cancelled across Scotland in the last year amid rising demand and staff and resource shortages, according to new figures.
In the 12 months to the end of May, an average of 44 planned Patient Transport Service (PTS) trips were called off every day.
The Scottish Ambulance Service pointed to three reasons for cancellations – when “demand exceeds the number of available resources”, there is an unexpected staff absence, or specialist equipment is unavailable.
It also highlighted “an increasing number of patients travelling further distances, namely to health board areas out with their own for specialist care, and an increasing number of transport requests made on the day of travel”.
The figures, obtained by the Scottish Conservatives via a freedom of information request, do not include occasions when the patient cancelled and relate to journeys for people who need help getting to hospital on a non-emergency basis.
While the 16,065 total – of which 4,296 were cancelled on the day they were due to take place – was smaller than the more than 21,000 cancellations the previous year, it was much lower – just over 10,000 –in 2014/15.
Tory Highlands and Islands MSP Donald Cameron called the numbers “astonishing”, adding: “It’s clear the ambulance service doesn’t have the resources to cope with the demands being placed on it.
“The SNP Government must act now to ensure these statistics reduce in future.”
Labour MSP Colin Smyth said it was “yet another example of the absolute mess the SNP has made of long-term planning of our NHS”.
And Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton described the situation as “not good enough”.
He added: “Ambulance services have been quite clear that resource shortages are to blame for the cancellation of thousands of patient journeys.”
An ambulance spokesman said it successfully undertook almost 780,000 patient transport journeys in the last year, describing cancellations as “always a last resort”.
He added: “We understand how important it is for patients to attend their appointments and do all we can to make sure we do not have to cancel journeys.”
He also said the service was currently recruiting and training 59 ambulance care assistants to fill vacancies across the country, which is expected to reduce the number of cancellations.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We would expect the ambulance service to strive to transport all clinically appropriate patients to their hospital appointments and, where this is not possible, patients should be signposted to alternative transport providers to ensure they can make their appointment.
“The Scottish Government has invested an additional £6.3million in the ambulance service for 2017-18 to help it deliver its Towards 2020 strategy.
“This includes the recruitment of additional staff, including ambulance care assistants who provide the patient transport service.”