A BBC Scotland Complaint – ‘Single Crew Ambulances’

Complaint submitted on January 7th

On January 4th a story appeared across every platform on BBC Scotland. The story related to so-called ‘single crew ambulances’.

According to the BBC 10,000 such ambulances had been despatched between 2013/14 and 2016/17. In every single broadcast the same phrase was used: “According to figures obtained by the Scottish Conservatives.”

The story was number one online, led the morning edition of Reporting Scotland and led every bulletin on that day’s Good Morning Scotland.

 

The figures were presented as though a failing on behalf of the Scottish Ambulance Service and the Scottish Government. Both were presented on the defensive.

However, it later emerged that the figures were in fact based on a four month old Freedom of Information request submitted by the Scottish Conservatives.

http://www.scottishambulance.com/TheService/FOIPapers.aspx?ID=987

I would therefore like to submit the following complaints:

  • BBC Scotland withheld the fact that the figures were the result of a FOI request.
  • BBC Scotland ran a four month old FOI request at a time of maximum benefit to the Conservative party and presented the figures as though only recently obtained.
  • Every BBC Scotland headline/intro presented the figures as though a failing, despite the most recent figures being the second best on record and an improvement of over one third on the previous year.
  • BBC Scotland omitted the following highly relevant part of the Scottish Ambulance Service response from all of its news bulletins. “A single crew will be sent to an incident if they are the closest resource to provide a patient with immediate care, but they will always be backed up by a double crew.”

 

Reply from BBC Scotland Deputy Head of News and Current Affairs, received January 23rd

“You say “Every BBC Scotland headline/intro presented the figures as though a failing despite the most recent figures being the second best on record and an improvement of over one third on the previous year.”

Our online story http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-42557798 makes clear that the “The rate has fallen from a high of 3,514 in 2015/16 but remains above the 2013/14 low of 1,644.”

Other stories on other platforms, running at around half a minute or ninety words each, reported the fact of the number of singly-crewed journeys over a period of four years, as well as the Scottish Ambulance Service’s point that this represented just 1.5% of all shifts in that period. We also reported the Scottish Government’s response that they are training an extra 1,000 paramedics in the next four years.

You say the figures were presented “as though a failing” on the part of the ambulance service and the Scottish Government. The Scottish Government has been clear that any single manned crew is a failure to follow its policy. In our online story, Nicola Sturgeon is quoted thus from a decade ago: “I have made it clear to the Scottish Ambulance Service that it must take action to eliminate rostered single-manning. The policy of the Scottish government is clear – traditional accident and emergency ambulances should be double-crewed, with at least one member being a paramedic, unless in exceptional circumstances.”

You complain that we “withheld” the fact that the figures were the result of a FOI request. I am not sure what relevance the source of official statistics is. These were figures obtained by the Scottish Conservatives as our stories make clear. They then put out a release which we followed up the same day.

The age of the request is not necessarily relevant to the value of the figures received – and it is not here. The story is about annual coverage over a number of years and the figures are therefore accurate, whether or not they were obtained earlier that year. There were not, for example, more recent figures that superseded or changed that.

You claim that words you quote from the Scottish Ambulance Service were “highly relevant”. I have read them and do not agree with you. The SAS’s general remarks about “always (…) backed up by a double crew” do not contain enough information to add to the story in a material way.

For the reasons I have outlined above I cannot agree with your complaint.

 

Follow on complaint submitted on January 31st

To claim that an introduction that reads: “More than 10,000 ambulances have been despatched with a single crew member on board over the last four years…” is *not* presenting the issue as a failing is bordering on ridiculous.

Given the timing of the news story, which was right in the middle of a very harsh winter which was exerting considerable pressure on the Scottish NHS, BBC Scotland should have informed viewers and listeners the figures were four months old.

Viewers and listeners should also have been informed the figures were a result of a Freedom of Information request submitted by the Scottish Conservatives. This prevents members of the public from perhaps believing the figures were leaked to the Scottish Conservatives instead of having been requested. Surely it’s better to be accurate than leave room for misunderstanding to ferment?

The following sentence is crucial to the story. “A single crew will be sent to an incident if they are the closest resource to provide a patient with immediate care, but they will always be backed up by a double crew.” To know that a double-crew is always on standy is reassuring to those people who may have been alarmed by thrust of the story.

 

Response to follow on complaint received on February 7th

We raised your concerns with the Deputy Head of News and Current Affairs who has little to add to the response you’ve already received.

 

Complaint to the Editorial Complaints Unit submitted February 8th

I wish to pursue this complaint.  The initial response to my complaint was inadequate and very clearly did not take into account much of the argument I presented.  My subsequent complaint has simply been ignored.

 

Response from the BBC Editorial Complaints Unit, received March 3rd

I have examined the BBC Scotland coverage that day, on TV, radio and online and can find no evidence this commitment, or the guidelines on which it is based, was breached.

Let me take the points you raise in turn;

Online and on air the scripts make clear that the figures were obtained by the Scottish Conservative Party.  It does not seem to me material that they were obtained through a Freedom of Information request, nor that the exact date when they released to party officials is not disclosed. The dates to which the figures themselves refer are clearly indicated.  This is sufficient in my view to allow viewers and readers the chance to make up their own minds on their relevance.

Equally it does not seem to me an essential fact that the latest annual figures are the second best on record, as you suggest. As previously explained more detail was provided where space allowed, but in my view it was sufficient context that each piece stated the position of the Scottish Conservatives and incorporated a response from both the Scottish Ambulance service and the Scottish Government.

Finally the suggestion that a single crew will always be backed up by a double crew does not seem to me material to the argument at hand. The claim is that the use of any single ambulance crew is unacceptable and against Government policy – and it was on those grounds that the story was written and a response sought from those in charge of the service at an administrative and political level.

For these reasons I do not believe you have identified a significant breach in BBC editorial standards and cannot uphold your complaint. This will be the BBC’s final view on your complaint unless there are reasons to modify or amend it in light of any comments you may wish to make.  If you do wish to respond to this finding, I would be grateful if you could send your comments to me by 20 March 2018.

 

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7 thoughts on “A BBC Scotland Complaint – ‘Single Crew Ambulances’

  1. Robert Graham

    As usual the BBC in scotland acting as the mouthpiece for the unionist bloc in scotland ,

    Despite the pretence ,there are no political parties operating under the name of – labour – tory – lib dems it’s all a farce , a pretence , Its one party .

    They should be forced to admit they operate in collusion and operate as the unionist party , and this three very vocal places they enjoy on TV should be withdrawn immediately .

  2. Ann Forbes

    This taken from thoughtcontrolscotland,com – note eg. the reference to ‘single crew’ rather than ‘single paramedic’ and so on !

    ‘Ambulance-chasers’* BBC Scotland digs up fake news as Scotland’s ambulance services disappoint them by coping well with the winter surge in demand

    January 4, 2018johnrobertson834
    180px-Ambulancelogo

    *Credit @MoFloMoJo for the clever headline opener.

    I’ve already reported on the strong performance of the Scottish Ambulance Service over the festive period. There was no crisis of the kind hoped for by the Unionist media and politicians. Not even one death they could blame on SNP management of the NHS. Predictably, they have scraped the barrel to find something, anything, they can use to worry their audience and to undermine the reputation of the SNP-led government. See:

    Scotland’s finest, our ambulance workers, fail Scotland’s media as they cope with Hogmanay demand

    BBC Scotland news found something which they felt could be built up and stretched into a bad news story. Today we read:

    ‘Thousands of ambulances dispatched with single crew. More than 10,000 ambulances have been dispatched with one crew member on board in the past four years.’

    As we read on we do get a bit of context. With a grim smile we see that the story comes from the Scottish Conservatives. Don’t BBC Scotland have any reporters out there finding stories for themselves? What are we paying them for? We, also read, now that the headline, which many only read, has had its hoped-for impact, that this accounted for only 1.5% of shifts or 2 204 out of around a quarter of a million shifts in total, in 2016.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-42557798

    Also, we see that this figure is down from 3 514 in the previous year but are not offered the percentage reduction. I wonder why not? It turns out to be an impressive 37% reduction worthy of a headline itself, I’d say.

    So, it’s not a big story in a quantitative sense but there’s worse than this dishonest inflation of the issue, in the language used in the headline to sensationalise, to distort, to scare and to undermine.

    The headline refers to ‘single crew’ rather than ‘single paramedic’, a highly-skilled person and trained well-beyond that of most nurses or GPs to deal with emergencies and to save lives. This is important.

    Second, the headline refers to ‘10 000 ambulances’ when it should refer to ‘call-outs’, painting a picture of a flood of separate single-crewed vehicles when often it would have been the same ambulance and the same paramedic called out several times in a single shift and, we must assume, sent to the cases identified by the shift supervisory staff, as manageable by a single paramedic.

    Are there even 10 000 ambulances across the whole country?

    Remember, we’re talking about 2 204 such call-outs in the last year or 6 in a night. In an 8-hour-shift, it seems quite plausible that it could be the same ambulance and paramedic sent to these call-outs where one paramedic was thought to be able to cope. If the truth is anything like this then we’re talking about 365 single-paramedic ambulances going out in a year and maybe 1 500 over the four years. You can see why they chose to put 10 000 ambulances into the headline.

    Finally, the decision to use the four-year figure of 10 000 rather than that for the most recent year, 2 204, is a clear case of deliberate sensationalism designed to inflate and to titillate those in need of anti-SNP stimulation. Given that the figure changes from year to year, the four-year figure has no information value.

    As NHS England doctors start to report ‘third-world conditions’, you can see why BBC Scotland News and its political bottom-feeders panicked and started to thrash around in the mud looking for anything they could find to attack the SNP with.

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    CHARLIE
    January 4, 2018 / 11:49 am
    John, forever grateful for the work you do in getting the truth out there despite overwhelming odds. The question always at the back of my mind is, that if you can see this blatant distortion of the truth why can the press watchdog not see this and do something about it?

    Liked by 1 person
    Reply

    JOHNROBERTSON834
    January 4, 2018 / 11:58 am
    Because the press watchdog is on their side, I guess. They can always find ways of reading it differently.

    Liked by 1 person
    Reply

    ALASDAIR MACDONALD
    January 4, 2018 / 12:35 pm
    I agree. ‘Rapid rebuttal’ is important and for that I am very grateful to people like John and others like WoS and Bella who work doggedly on it.

    The GMS report I heard prefaced the item by referring to a Conservative FoI request. It did, however, emphasise the faux shock-horror and made only a perfunctory attempt at analysis. It did quote the Ambulance Service figure of 1.5%.

    My initial thought was 10 000 over four years -> 2 500 per year -> approx 7 per day. Not a lot. That was before I pondered on what the crew might have been being sent out for. It could easily be for something which the caller had described in such a way that it was reasonable to infer that one person would manage. Were there any complaints over those four years that the ambulance had only one crew member?

    Increasingly, I have seen single paramedics in ordinary cars going to scenes of accidents. Presumably this is because the relative manoeuvrability of the car can enable the paramedic to get to the scene more quickly, give rapid treatment, such as defibrillation, undertake triage on the spot and advise the controller what additional help might be needed. That seems to me to be a wise routine. Are such cars counted amongst the ‘single’ crew?

    Liked by 1 person
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    JOHNROBERTSON834
    January 4, 2018 / 12:40 pm
    Thanks, useful additional thoughts again.

    Liked by 1 person
    Pingback: ‘Ambulance-chasers’* BBC Scotland digs up fake news on as Scotland’s ambulance services disappoint them by coping well with the winter surge in demand | speymouth

    JOHNROBERTSON834
    January 4, 2018 / 11:58 am
    Oh, yes, thanks.

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    ALEX MACLEOD
    January 4, 2018 / 12:20 pm
    I wonder how many of those single crew vehicles dispatched were the nine motorcycle paramedics stationed around Scotland

    Liked by 1 person
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    JOHNROBERTSON834
    January 4, 2018 / 12:37 pm
    Hadn’t thought of them. That would be funny if it were the case.

    Liked by 1 person
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    A C BRUCE
    January 4, 2018 / 12:47 pm
    Pretty sick of all of this now – attacks on education, health, police, Scotland, Scottishness, Scottish Government, etc. Thankfully, I only see the BBC website bullshit as I don’t pay the telly tax; no beaming straight into my living room!

    This is soul destroying and really rather insulting to the Ambulance Service and staff who work their socks off in often very trying situations.

    Paramedic responses are backed up by conveying resources, when required, and not all ambulance call outs end up with the patient going to hospital. Some of them don’t require it. They may require a visit to their own doctor (or a visit by their doctor) and can wait.

    No surprise from BBC though is it? Just the same old pile of steaming excrement.

    Liked by 1 person
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    JOHNROBERTSON834
    January 4, 2018 / 3:27 pm
    Have to agree with you. I can’t watch or listen to BBC but my wife still watches some of their drama so..

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    A C BRUCE
    January 4, 2018 / 12:57 pm
    Forgot to say. Ambulance Staff can’t respond/defend themselves. Not allowed to engage with press.

    Liked by 2 people
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    JOHNROBERTSON834
    January 4, 2018 / 3:30 pm
    Thanks. 12 hour shifts all the time?

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    JOHNROBERTSON834
    January 4, 2018 / 3:32 pm
    I’ll get them!

    Liked by 1 person
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    BRIAN POWELL
    January 4, 2018 / 1:32 pm
    There must be individuals, with names, connected to these stories. I wonder if it one or two or a whole team. One would think somewhere among the staff of the BBC there is one with shred of decency who will blow the whistle.

    Liked by 1 person
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    JOHNROBERTSON834
    January 4, 2018 / 3:33 pm
    They’d lose their jobs so it’s maybe too much to expect until they retire?

    Liked by 1 person
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    KATE
    January 4, 2018 / 2:32 pm
    Also… could they be the ‘taxi’ jobs that they are sometimes used for? As a Care Home Officer, I’d to phone ambulances quite often for elderly having problems. it was a requirement. They WEREN’T emergencies but needed to be transported to hospital for more experienced care than we could provide. Was more a ‘taxi’ service than paramedical help they needed. Ambulance used in case their breathing became more strenuous… That happened fairly regularly & was considered ‘routine’ for elderly care.

    Liked by 1 person
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    JOHNROBERTSON834
    January 4, 2018 / 3:33 pm
    Thanks Kate, interesting.

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    HUGH WALLACE
    January 4, 2018 / 11:00 pm
    Probably not ‘taxi’ jobs because of the fact that if an elderly person needs their breathing monitored and potentially assisted and the only paramedic is driving…

    Had the story been ‘single crewed ambulances used to convey patients to hospital’ that would indeed have been a very bad news story indeed because of this risks involved.

    Liked by 1 person
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    KATE
    January 6, 2018 / 8:30 pm
    You would think, Hugh, but often it was just the ‘one man’ ambulance & the paramedic being the driver. Our Home didn’t have an attending nurse at night, so any problems meant a call to NHS24 and more often than not, an ambulance was sent with the driver checking the patient & then taking them to hospital for any testing they thought might be required. And it was often just a ‘one-man’ ambulance that brought them back to the homes once seen & checked. Used to feel sorry for the wee craturs, being brought back, in the back of the ambulance all by themselves, at ungodly hours… But – because homes run on little staff at night, there was no one free to go with the elderly lady or gent or see them back ‘home’ at 2:00/3:00 in the morning. The treatment is first class, but… there isn’t the time or money to make little things like this better for the aged, unfortunately. But yes – much of this done with ‘one man & his medical van’…

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    KEVIN MCKINNON
    January 4, 2018 / 2:45 pm
    Just a quick note to say we do 12hr shifts not 8. As others noted I wonder if the bikes, PRUs & paramedic practitioners were counted too.

    Liked by 1 person
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    JOHNROBERTSON834
    January 4, 2018 / 3:34 pm
    12 hrs all the time?

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    KEVIN MCKINNON
    January 4, 2018 / 6:08 pm
    The vast majority do a 12hr shift pattern, some do 10hr. Starting tonight for 4 night shifts.

    Liked by 2 people

    CHARLESOBRIEN08
    January 4, 2018 / 4:13 pm
    Reblogged this on charlesobrien08 and commented:
    This is how Tories tell lies and get their BBC propagandas machine to spread THEM time to stamp them out the lies as well as the Tories and the BBC they all deserve the same fate.

    Liked by 3 people
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    JOHNROBERTSON834
    January 4, 2018 / 6:40 pm
    Thanks for reblogging Charles

    Liked by 1 person
    Reply

    CHARLESOBRIEN08
    January 5, 2018 / 11:31 am
    Its good its true it needs spread around so more can see it and understand that the truth needs finding its not in Tory leaflets.

    Liked by 1 person

    ALASDAIR MACDONALD
    January 4, 2018 / 4:15 pm
    The BBC has permitted comments on their reports and, although there are the expected unionist lags taking the article as a cue to attack the SG, the vast majority of comments are in tune with your analysis and those of other posters on this site.

    Liked by 1 person
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    JOHNROBERTSON834
    January 4, 2018 / 6:41 pm
    I thought they’d stopped allowing comments. Must have a look.

    Liked by 1 person
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    KENZIE
    January 4, 2018 / 6:44 pm
    Just noticed that tonight STV are doing their damndest to breathe live into this flagging corpse of a story.

    Liked by 3 people
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    SAM
    January 4, 2018 / 7:10 pm
    The Red 10,000 on the Herald’s front page is a sign of the papers desperation to attack the SNP. People can see through desperation.

    Liked by 2 people
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    ALASDAIR MACDONALD
    January 4, 2018 / 10:24 pm
    Now that more data has emerged, we can see just how well our A&E staff has done. There was a 20%increase in the number of people presenting compared to previous weeks. Although the percentage of people seen within the target 4 hour waiting time was well below the 95% target, when the percentage figure is applied to the increased numbers of people presenting at A&E, we see that MORE people were actually seen than were seen during the preceding weeks, when the percentage dealt with within 4 hours was higher.

    As well as showing the Herculean efforts of the staff, this also shows the inadequacy of using targets as the indicator of success.

    I see that ambulance crews dealt with 40% more calls last week. Again, I am awestruck by the efforts of these public servants. I hope that once the winter crisis has eased that the health service unions and the Health Boards demand that the broadcasters and the media meet them to discuss issuing accurate data and about acknowledging and praising staff.

    Liked by 2 people
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    LUDO THIERRY
    January 4, 2018 / 10:51 pm
    Rather than creating ‘fake news’ about the Scottish Ambulance service might the Colonel’s troops (and the Col’s msm) not be better engaged asking some pointed questions about Mr. Mundell’s apparent addiction to excessive expenditure at his Scotland Office fiefdom? Fortunately the admirable combination of SNP MP Deidre Brock and The National have given them some lines of enquiry that they can pursue: (See below an edited version of piece from today’s National which is a very fine piece of work and well worth a read):

    DAVID Mundell has been accused of “partying on the public purse” after the Scotland Office’s hospitality budget jumped by 585 per cent in a year.
    In 2015-16, the department, who promote “the best interests of Scotland within a stronger United Kingdom” spent £8987 on hospitality.
    But in 2016-17 that skyrocketed to £61,641.73.

    Edinburgh Leith and Northern MP Deidre Brock has previously questioned the hike in the overall cost of the Scotland Office. Figures obtained by the MP show the cost of media relations has risen from £108,439 in 2010, when the Tories came to power, to £686,166 last year.
    The last Labour Scotland Office had a staff of five. But under Mundell there were 71 employees, with the department’s salary bill approaching £9 million.
    Brock also queried social media advertising costs for last year, which hovered around a few hundred pounds most months then rose to nearly £12,000 in March. She asked the minister to explain that rise “just before the election”.
    Speaking after the meeting, Brock said the Scotland Office had “become nothing more nor less than a Tory propaganda unit pumping out the latest cunning plan from the UK Government”.
    “Everyone will remember that the Scotland Office has less to do now than it did in 1999 – the Calman Commission and the Smith Commission have driven responsibility to Holyrood instead, but still he keeps adding staff and spending more money on propaganda. His spin-doctor costs have increased by more than six times since 2010 to nearly three-quarters of a million pounds a year.”

    With Fluffy it is simply ‘Spend, Spend Spend’

    Liked by 2 people
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    ALASDAIR MACDONALD
    January 6, 2018 / 11:10 pm
    Be careful what you wish for ….!

    Overenthusiastically slicing vegetables using new knives, I sliced a sliver off the tip of a finger and could not get it to stop. So, off to the MIU. This was at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary on a Saturday evening. I was triaged within 5 minutes of reporting and taken in for treatment in 45 minutes. After the cut was cleaned and bound, I had to wait at least half an hour to check that clotting has taken place. I was then cleaned again and had a fresh dressing put on, with my arm in a sling to maintain elevation. I was out in less than 3 hours of my initial reporting.

    I have to see my GP on Monday morning to have the wound examined and a fresh dressing put in place.

    So, I have experience of the emergency service during this pressure period and the staff were excellent and responded with calmness to those patients, who due to anxiety about their conditions were a bit grumpy.

    There were police present but they had been called by the staff to assist a patient who had come in by himself having faced an unprovoked knife attack. The police took a statement while he was being treated. There were also personnel from the Navigator team who assist people who have been victims of violence.

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  3. millie

    O/T I am sure that Sarah Smith on UK BBC News at 6.00pm tonight, said that 100,000 people waited more than 4 hours in A&E in Scotland ‘last week’.

    This figure is outrageously wrong.

    Could someone else please check her comment and share.

  4. Patsy Millar

    I really shouldn’t read your accounts of complaints to the BBC. My blood pressure must go off the charts when I see how inadequate their responses are; but as ever, well done to you and thanks for not giving up.

  5. Pingback: A complaint to BBC Scotland – Change We Must

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