Unite union concerned about ambulance cover in Highlands
The Unite union has said action must be taken to address a shortage of emergency ambulance cover in parts of the Highlands.
It said its members working for the Scottish Ambulance Service in Skye, Lochaber and Caithness have told of days when the service was stretched.
Among the reasons is increasing use of ambulances for non-emergency transfers to hospital in Inverness, said Unite.
SAS said it was aware of "pressures" and was working with NHS Highland.
Unite regional officer Richard Whyte said the union's members have become "increasingly frustrated and concerned" about emergency ambulances being "routinely" used for long patient transfers to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness.
He said: "This should only be done as a last resort and when a medical reason requires it.
"However, it would seem that Highland communities are being left with drastically reduced emergency cover while crews transport patients to Inverness.
"Sometimes before the ambulances can return to their own communities, they are being sent to cover calls in the Inverness area."
Mr Whyte added: "Our workplace representatives have raised concerns with the management of the Scottish Ambulance Service about these problems, and about the length of working hours that sometimes results."
SAS said it was aware of pressures on inter-hospital transfers and was working on this with NHS Highland.
A spokesperson for the ambulance service said: "We are also aware of the need to keep emergency cover in the area.
"Calls are responded to based on patient need. This means sending patients the most appropriate response, which if they have an immediately life-threatening condition such as cardiac arrest will be the closest available resource.
"There is a range of responses we can send to emergencies, including air and land ambulances as well as first responders, and we continue to work closely with our partners and communities to ensure we deliver the safest and most effective service."
The spokesperson said that as part of a £5m additional investment in the service, it had recruited 12 staff into new posts across the Highland area since April last year.