Scottish Ambulance Service is NOT a taxi for drunks

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As you’re pulling that cracker on Christmas day or downing your first half of the New Year, spare a thought for people who won’t be enjoying the festivities.

Among that number are staff at the Scottish Ambulance Service who treat these annual celebrations as “just another working day”.

However, unlike any other time of year, staffing numbers have to be increased dramatically.

For Christmas and New Year are exceptionally busy for the service which is on stand-by 24/7, 365 days a year to ensure people who really need to get to hospital quickly can do so.

And it’s with that in mind that we spoke to Robert Pearson, a duty supervisor at one of the three ambulance control centres in Scotland.

Based in the east control centre at South Queensferry, Robert will miss New Year as he will be dealing with calls on the Scottish Ambulance Service’s busiest day.

Robert explained: “Our control centres deal with calls from all over Scotland and that doesn’t stop for Christmas and New Year.

“As well as the normal run of calls we receive on a daily basis we also have to contend with all that Christmas and New Year entails.

“Our normal business goes on but our work goes through the roof as other peoples’ workplaces close down for the festivities.

“It’s our busiest time of year because people who don’t normally drink to excess will drink more – whether at Christmas parties or at home.

“People also eat far more than they would usually, forcing down more food than is normal for them.

“It’s also a time of year when people feel lonelier so mental health issues come to the fore.

“In addition to all that, we deal with an increased number of road traffic accidents as people who travel to see family use roads they are not familiar with or put their foot down to get there just a wee bit earlier.

“All of that means we are busier at this time of year than any other.

“Even with all the extra staff who are drafted in, the demand on our time is phenomenal.

“But Hogmanay is, without doubt, our biggest and busiest day of the year.”

With that in mind, Robert appealed for people to think before they dial 999 this year – to ensure the service and its hard-working staff can deal with real emergencies.

Stressing that ambulances are NOT a taxi service, he said: “Do you really need an ambulance to take you to hospital? If it’s a stroke, heart attack or cardiac arrest, of course you do.

“But if it’s not something you need a blue light for then it’s worth considering if you could you get a friend or taxi to take you to hospital.

“If people are going to drink alcohol we would also ask them to make sure their mobile phones are charged, they wear appropriate clothing and ensure they stay with their friends.

“I had one caller last weekend who came through to 999 and, when I asked him what had happened, he said ‘I’m too drunk to get in a taxi and I need someone to take me home’.

“People need to know that we are not a taxi service.

“By calling us, they could potentially delay someone who is having a heart attack or cardiac arrest by ten or 15 seconds and, in those situations, every second counts.”

Dealing with people under the influence can also tie up staff for longer.

Robert explained: “People who don’t normally drink can be quite obnoxious when they drink to excess.

“It’s quite frustrating for our call handlers as one can be issuing CPR instructions while another is trying to explain why we can’t operate a taxi service.

“It’s all about people being educated on when it’s appropriate to call the emergency services – andwhen it’s not.”

There are three call centres in Scotland – East in South Queensferry, West in Cardonald, Glasgow, and North in Inverness.

Together, they deal with hundreds of calls each day from all over Scotland.

Any abusive calls are flagged up to Police Scotland which can tie up even more emergency services time.

However, it’s all in a day’s work for the Scottish Ambulance Service.

Robert added: “We all knew the nature of the job when we joined up so if we have to work a 12-hour shift on Christmas Day or Hogmanay, that’s part of it.

“It’s hard getting the kids up at 4.30am to open their presents so you can get into work at 6.30am butit’s part and parcel of what we do.”

Your safety is their priority

The Scottish Ambulance Service is not the only emergency service which will be working hard to ensure your safety this festive season.

Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service will also have far more staff on duty for what is a really busy time of year for them. And all of them are working to ensure the safety of people, just like you and me, who sadly have to deal with traumatic events over the festive period. So before you dial 999, it’s well worth considering if you really need to...and if not, don’t call.

Firefighters attended more than 500 accidental house fires during last year’s festive and New Year celebrations.

They were alerted to a total of 517 such emergencies at homes across Scotland between December 7 and Janary 11.

Accidental fires over the winter months can be caused by an increased use of heating and electrical appliances, as well as higher alcohol consumption.

The colder weather can also see firefighters attend more traffic collisions on the roads, caused by treacherous driving conditions during ice and flooding.

There were 230 such incidents over the same period last year.

Assistant chief officer David McGown, SFRS director of prevention and protection, said: “We urge the public to take action and be prepared for whatever hazards might come in the next few weeks.”

Police Scotland’s drink driving campaign started on December 2 and will run until January 2.

Officers will also be out and about, ensuring people enjoy their Christmas and New Year parties and get home, safe and sound. In Edinburgh and Falkirk, they are assisted in this by street pastors and night time taxi-rank marshals.