Humza Yousaf faces backlash after 'shaming Scots' over calling ambulance service

By Peter Davidson

Humza Yousaf has been urged to focus on fixing the current crisis in the ambulance before "shaming Scots who are fearing for their health".

The SNP Health Secretary said people should think twice before calling 999 for a paramedic due to the current pressures on the NHS.

While he pledged any additional cash that could be found would be spent trying to ease the pressure on the health service, the Health Secretary conceded it "will be a challenging autumn and winter".

In light of that, he said people should consider whether it is "absolutely critical" for them to call for an ambulance.

The recent surge in coronavirus cases has resulted in rising numbers of patients in hospital with the virus - with the total now more than 1,000 again.

This in turn is putting pressure on other parts of the health service.

Health Secretary Humza Yousaf has come under fire over his comments (PA)

On Yousaf's comments, Scottish Labour health spokesperson Jackie Baillie said: "Ambulance services are in crisis due to the SNP's failure to support frontline workers and paramedics.

"This crisis has been unfolding for some time, unaddressed by previous SNP Health Secretaries, and the current one is now missing in action.

"Humza Yousaf should focus on fixing the problem rather than shaming Scots who are fearing for their health.

"There is no time to delay."

Earlier today Yousaf was asked on the BBC's Good Morning Scotland programme if people should "think twice" about calling an ambulance, Yousaf answered: "Yes is the short answer to that.

"I don't know that people do that because they are in distressing situations, I think most people will only call when they're in extreme distress.

"You can imagine the pressure that the ambulance service and our health service as a whole is under.

"So please do think about picking up the phone to call 999 to call an ambulance.

"Is it absolutely critical? If it is of course make that call and the ambulance service will get to you as quickly as they possibly can."

Responding to the comment, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: "Humza Yousaf is proving a reckless Health Secretary. Encouraging people not to seek treatment is a huge gamble.

“Winter pressures come around every year. It is the job of health Secretary to ensure that the NHS has the resources it needs to cope with demand.

“Perhaps if we had a better contact tracing system then the pressure on our NHS would not be so great.

“Many NHS boards are now having to cancel elective operations. The Health Secretary should liaise with them immediately about what support and resources are necessary to turn the tide."

Scottish Labour MSP Jackie Baillie hit out at Humza Yousaf (PA)

While, Scottish Conservative Shadow Public Health Minister Sandesh Gulhane said: “It is astonishing to hear the SNP’s Health Secretary try to discourage people from calling for an ambulance.

"Humza Yousaf is making people feel guilty about dialling 999 and seeking urgent help.

"This sort of reckless messaging could put lives at risk. When people suffer conditions like heart attacks or strokes, they might think twice about calling an ambulance, which could lead to unnecessary deaths.

"The health secretary should be guaranteeing that he will improve waiting times, not telling people to stop phoning for an ambulance.

"On Humza Yousaf’s watch, our ambulance service has reached breaking point and our NHS is in crisis.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: "These claims are utterly unfounded. The Health Secretary was rightly echoing the request from frontline ambulance staff and managers that people use the ambulance service wisely given the unprecedented pressure it is under due to the pandemic.

“Any suggestion that the reiteration of routine advice to only dial 999 in an emergency in any way amounts to criticism of patients is manifestly untrue.

“It is precisely because we value so hugely the heroic work of frontline NHS workers and paramedics that we are putting more money and more staff into the NHS than ever before – including £20 million for the ambulance service to recruit almost 300 more staff.

"Because of the global pandemic and its multiple knock-on effects, the Ambulance Service is under the most pressure it has ever been since the inception of the NHS in 1947 – and it is absurd to suggest that these clearly unique circumstances are in any way an ‘every winter’ occurrence.

"We know the immense strain which frontline paramedics and call-handlers are under and it’s because we value their heroic work so highly that we are investing an extra £20 million to fund almost 300 new staff for the Ambulance Service, as well as more than £1billion of extra funding for the wider NHS to increase capacity and give it more staff and more money than ever before."

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