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6 November 2015, 09:33
A Heart News investigation has uncovered the massive scale of overtime in the Scottish Ambulance Service caused by a lack of staff.
Figures obtained exclusively by us reveal one paramedic received an overtime payment of almost £39,000 last year.
The overtime bill for ambulance workers and staff in Scotland totalled almost £31million over two years and went up by £1.4m in 12 months.
Over the last 24 months the service could have hired more than 1500 trainee technicians for the amount it spent on overtime payments.
The Scottish Government said "overtime is paid at a premium rate to discourage excessive use and to properly recompense staff for their additional contribution to service delivery."
"We have allocated resource increases which has allowed additional staff to be recruited and trained year on year since September 2007", said the Health Secretary.
Our investigation found the Scottish Ambulance Service total overtime bill rose from £11.8m in 2013/14 to £13.2m in 2014/15.
Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said: "This is yet another example of the real challenges our NHS faces."
Ms Dugdale continued: "This level of overtime doesn't just suggest wasteful spending in the NHS but a problem with staffing numbers. "
Ambulance chiefs said they used overtime when a shift 'overruns' and they 'continue to monitor overtime costs on an ongoing basis'.
A single 'A&E vehicle crew' member earned £5373 in overtime working in a single month last year. The payment was claimed during October and not during a special event such as the Glasgow Commonwealth Games.
A paramedic told us: "The service is at breaking point. They simply do not have the resources"
"There is cause for concern about lives being put at risk. We are always told overtime is not compulsory, however, a lot of the ambulance service is run on people's good nature."
"If we don't do overtime, there is no one to fill the gaps and people could die".
The Scottish Ambulance Service said in a statement: "Overtime costs are incurred to cover shifts due to absence caused by training needs or staff illness, as well as shift overruns which take place in the course of delivering safe and appropriate care to our patients."
"The provision of extra cover for Commonwealth Games and Ryder Cup, which were in addition to the normal calendar of events such as T In the Park and Edinburgh's Hogmanay, contributed to the increase in overtime last year. Special events are always managed while maintaining normal ambulance cover and costs are recovered from the organisers."
"In recent years we have recruited frontline staff in record numbers and vacancies across the Service are at their lowest for some time. We continue to recruit new staff across the country and our Education and Professional Development team is working at full capacity. 115 new frontline staff have been trained since April and 80 new recruits will start their training in January, followed by similar new cohorts throughout next year.
"Overtime costs are monitored on an ongoing basis and teams are working hard to fill vacancies as quickly as possible, reduce levels of sickness absence as well as working with NHS Boards to reduce shift overruns."
The service employs 4,232 staff, of whom 550 are in support services and administration.
Health Secretary Shona Robison said: "In a demand led service like the NHS, overtime is one way, at short notice and on a short term basis, to ensure that staff are always there to deliver services to the public. Overtime is paid at a premium rate to discourage excessive use and to properly recompense staff for their additional contribution to service delivery.
"We value the dedication of our ambulance workers extremely highly. They provide a first class service, often under challenging and physically demanding circumstances, and we are determined to support them to do so. We have allocated resource increases in both 2014/15 and 2015/16, which has allowed additional staff to be recruited and trained year on year since September 2007, including an additional 150 staff when the Service moved to a new working pattern.
"In February this year, we also announced an additional £2 million to help develop the skills and capabilities of the ambulance service workforce and support the service to deliver the right care, in the right place, at the right time. SAS are also using this funding to recruit extra staff and urgent tier vehicles to support demand, with the new vehicles to be in place later this year.
"Ambulance service managers are working closely with trade union partners and staff to develop strategies to promote health and wellbeing - including fast track physiotherapy and support services, and self-referral to Occupational Health. These arrangements are monitored and reviewed on an on-going basis to ensure staff have the best possible support."