Union launches SAS workers ‘emergency workers’ status campaign

Unite Scotland has revealed its updated Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) survey findings which reconfirm that the service continues to face major challenges despite extra investment by the Scottish government.

The survey further reveals that Unite members are demanding action by the Scottish government that they be treated equally and recognised as an ‘emergency service’ on similar terms as the police and fire and rescue services.

The June 2022 survey findings expose that in many areas of the SAS the situation has deteriorated from November 2021 when the ambulance service crisis reached national prominence. The survey of nearly 350 Unite members represents a 19 per cent improvement in the response rate from the sample size of just under 300 in the survey seven months ago.

The latest survey findings reveal:

  • 87% now state that they do not feel valued by the SAS in contrast with 84.6% in the November 2021 survey.
  • 91% answered ‘no’ to feeling valued by the Scottish Government compared with 88.2% in the previous survey.
  • 79% have considered leaving the service - up from 73.6%.
  • Only 9% now state that they have suffered no form of abuse (verbal, physical, religious, racial, or gender based) compared with the previous 18.4%.

Despite the extra £20 million into the SAS announced by the health secretary, Humza Yousaf, in addition to the £20 million previously announced by the first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, in September 2021, the Unite survey confirms there has been minimal impact on the frontline.

  • 89% felt ‘fatigued’ at work compared with 86.4% last November;
  • 80% believe that their team is ‘understaffed’ compared with the previous 78.9%.
  • 69% stated that they do not get the necessary break times during shifts compared with 69.9% last year.

The survey sheds new light on the ‘call to completion’ times as experienced by SAS workers. 62 per cent of respondents now state that the longest 999 call they have been involved in from call to completion exceeded six hours over the last seven months. This is down from the previous figure of 71 per cent.

According to survey respondents those involved in call to completion cases over 20 hours has now reduced from the November 2021 figure - 16.3 per cent - to 1.1 per cent in June 2022. Those involved in cases of between 15-20 hours also reduced from 11.7 per cent to 3.4 per cent over the same time period. In the under 6 hours category the situation has similarly improved from 29.3 per cent of November 2021 respondents stating it was the longest call to completion they were involved in - it now stands at 37.4 per cent.

Despite the progress being made in extreme cases a majority (56.4 per cent) of respondents stated that they were still involved in cases between 6 -12 hours (6-8 hours - 40.2%; 8-10 hours - 10.6%, and 10-12 hours - 5.6%).

Unite believes the progress in extreme cases can be better explained by the significant increase in longer working shifts. 86 per cent of respondents said that the longest shift they had worked was over 12 hours (12-15 hours – 52%; 15-20 hours – 31%; 20 hours and above – 3%). This figure is up significantly from 76% in November (12-15 hours – 44.3%; 15-20 hours – 30%; 20 hours and above 2.5%).

Unite’s SAS members are also demanding immediate negotiations with the Scottish government in order to urgently consider how ambulance service workers can be formally recognised as an ‘emergency service’ on similar terms as the police and fire and rescue services. SAS workers can only retire at the state pension retirement age for men and women currently between 66 and 67. In contrast, police and fire and rescue services allow staff to retire at 60 on the basis of fulfilling certain criteria.

The Unite survey revealed that 80 per cent support the campaign to have the SAS recognised as an emergency service with equivalent pensionable terms to the police and fire and rescue services with 88 per cent answering that they would be willing to pay higher pension contributions to retire early.

Pat Rafferty, Unite Scottish secretary, in response to the latest survey findings, said: “Unite’s survey shows that the situation facing Scottish Ambulance Service workers remains extremely depressing. In a number of vital areas such as the longest shift worked, staff considering leaving, understaffing, staff being abused and feeling undervalued the situation is deteriorating.

"Hundreds of workers are telling us that despite the millions of extra investment into the service heralded by the Scottish government it’s making minimal impact on the frontline. The stark reality is that a majority of our members have been involved in call to completion cases between 6 and 12 hours on the Scottish government’s watch over the last seven months which in a modern day society is both unforgiveable and inexcusable. “

Jamie McNamee, Unite Scottish Ambulance Service convenor, said: “Despite the Scottish government rolling out announcements on extra resources being allocated to the SAS and that the situation is improving, in the real world, which is where our members live and work, the findings reveal the situation is just as bad if not worse in some areas.

"Seven months ago we said the workers at the SAS were making their own 999 call to the Scottish government. Ministers may have lifted the phone but all we are getting is talk and no action which is making a tangible impact at the frontline. It’s also shameful that ambulance service workers are being treated differently to other emergency services which is why Unite is launching our campaign to have the SAS workforce treated on an equal basis with the police, fire and rescue services.”