Scottish Liberal Democrats today revealed that the fire service has attended hundreds of medical emergencies because ambulances were unable to immediately attend.
A freedom of information request from the party has shown that since the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service was established in 2013, firefighters have attended 1157 medical emergencies at the request of ambulance control, providing emergency first aid until an ambulance was able to attend.
During this period, 481 incidents were attended under a combination of the national Out of Hospital Cardiac Arrest Trial (currently on hold) and two historic co-responder agreements in Braemar and Maud.
This leaves 676 requests for assistance that were made outwith any formal agreements.
Earlier this week the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service set out plans to boost firefighter pay by 20% in exchange for their taking on new responsibilities, including providing emergency medical care.
Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP commented:
"Our emergency services work incredibly hard and are faced with the most difficult of circumstances.
"Co-responding arrangements make sense because every second is critical in medical emergencies. For example, if someone is goes into cardiac arrest then the nearest available expertise should be deployed, regardless of what uniform they are wearing. It boosts the chances of survival.
"However, people will be concerned that these figures are also an indication of the pressure that the ambulance service is under.
"On hundreds of occasions they have asked firefighters to cover a medical emergency because they couldn't get an ambulance there immediately.
"We know paramedics have been stretched. There were long delays during the recent cold snap and one of my constituents, 72 year-old Michael Wilczynski, waited three hours in the cold for an ambulance to arrive after slipping on ice and breaking his ankle. Scottish Government ministers need to ensure that the service has the resources it needs."
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie is also set to lead a debate at Parliament next week on the potential to expand first responder systems, connecting and alerting volunteers who are qualified to provide critical care when they happen to be in the vicinity of a medical emergency.