FIREFIGHTERS under-qualified in medical care may soon cover for an under-resourced Highland ambulance service, according to the GMB union.
It has written to Scottish Health Secretary Shona Robison, urging her to "come clean" about the implications for ambulance crews of a pay deal that could see firefighters’ salaries rise by 20 per cent for the additional responsibility.
It would take salaries from £29,934 to £35,800 by 2021-22.
The proposed new role would include emergency medical response and terrorism response. It is expected that up to 300 jobs could be axed from the service as part of the proposal.
Taking to social networks, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) Scotland said it was "wholly unacceptable" that its members had been contacted directly about the idea, "bypassing nationally agreed collective bargaining processes".
Assistant chief officer Lewis Ramsay, the Scottish fire service’s director of response and resilience indicated that the new ambulance and fire service partnership had already "potentially saved" 41 lives before the trial was halted by the FBU last year.
He said: "Firefighters exist to save lives and had stepped into a new area of rescue which saw them co-responding to out-of-hospital cardiac arrest.
"Our highly trained crews worked as a team to stabilise the patient, keeping them alive until the arrival of our skilled ambulance partners.
"This unique partnership broke down the barriers of emergency response, critical to the chain of survival. We’re proposing a significantly improved recognition package for firefighters to reflect a wide emergency response role."
He added: "We’ll now enter into formal negotiations with staff and unions, and believe we can reach the right outcome both for them and the people of Scotland."
Drew Duffy, senior organiser with the GMB union which represents many ambulance staff, said: "We’re shocked that rather than the Scottish Government meeting with us and talking about how we properly fund the ambulance service, they’d rather ask another emergency service to pick up the pieces.
"Firefighters have enough to do with being asked to be part-time paramedics.
"Our members are trained and have the equipment to deal with medical emergencies but they need more staff to deal with the demand.
"The people of Scotland expect an ambulance when they call 999 because of a heart attack, and that’s what they should get.
"I’ve written to Shona Robison to ask for clarity on what this offer to the fire brigade union and their members means to our members in the ambulance service."
A spokeswoman for the ambulance service said: "Trials with firefighters co-responding with ambulance crews to out-of-hospital cardiac arrests took place last year in selected areas of the country and this partnership working has helped save lives."
A spokesman for the Scottish Government said any deal was still to be negotiated.
"We’re committed to supporting the ambulance service as it develops its workforce," he said, "which is why a further £8.6 million has been allocated to help recruit 200 paramedics this year – in line with our commitment to see 1000 new paramedics by the end of 2021."