In 1948 the newly formed National Health Service contracted two voluntary organisations, the St Andrew's Ambulance Association and the British Red Cross, to jointly provide a national ambulance service for Scotland. The service was known as the St Andrew's and Red Cross Scottish Ambulance Service. The Red Cross withdrew from the service in 1967; the service was renamed the St Andrew's Scottish Ambulance Service. In 1974 the service was taken over by the NHS, the title being shortened to the Scottish Ambulance Service.
St. Andrew's First Aid, which is the trading name of St. Andrew's Ambulance Association, continues as a voluntary organisation.
In 2003 there was a reorganisation of the ambulance control centres across Scotland, with eight being merged into three.
The original uniform for the service consisted of a light blue shirt, black clip-on tie, navy blue sweater and black peaked cap with Service crest.
In 1992, the uniform changed to a boiler-suit type uniform, to reflect the practicalities of providing front-line emergency care; and eventually a very similar trouser / shirt combination some time in the 2000s. These uniforms were an Irish green colour for Emergency staff and a light blue shade for Patient Transport staff.
In 2013/2014, the uniform was again changed to mirror the NHS National Uniform standard. It is now supplied by Dimensions and is broadly similar to all other Ambulance Services in the UK; a dark green trouser / shirt combination with associated PPE and bomber jacket of the same colour. All staff, including control centre staff, now wear the national uniform unless otherwise authorised.
The national headquarters are in west side of Edinburgh and there are five divisions within the Service, namely:
The Patient Transport Service carries almost 1.6 million patients every year. This service is provided to patients who are physically or medically unfit to travel to hospital out-patient appointments by any other means can still make their appointments. The service also handles non-emergency admissions, discharges, transport of palliative care patients and a variety of other specialised roles.
Patient Transport Vehicles come in a variety of forms and are staffed by Ambulance Care Assistants, whom work either double or single crewed. They are trained to look after patients during the journey, and to provide basic emergency care.
The service has the only government-funded air ambulance service in the UK, operated under contract by Gama Aviation. The fleet consists of two Airbus H145 helicopters (operated under sub-contract by Babcock Mission Critical Services Onshore Ltd.) and two Beechcraft B200C King Air fixed-wing aircraft, which provide emergency response and transfers of patients to and from remote areas of Scotland. In 2015/16, the air ambulance crews flew 3,849 missions. One helicopter and one King Air are based at a Gama Aviation facility at Glasgow Airport. The other operating bases are Inverness Airport (helicopter) and Aberdeen Airport (King Air).
The aircraft based in Glasgow are regularly used by the UK's only Emergency Medical Retrieval Service. The air ambulance service was occasionally featured as part of the popular Channel 5 television documentary series Highland Emergency.
In late 2012 a charity was founded to provide a further air ambulance, based at Perth Airport, to work alongside the state-funded aircraft. Scotland's Charity Air Ambulance (SCAA) commenced operations in May 2013 with a Bolkow 105 airframe. Since November 2015, SCAA operates a Eurocopter EC-135 helicopter. The helicopter is crewed by Scottish Ambulance Service paramedics, tasking is from the SAS ambulance control centre at Cardonald.
In 2010 the service established three teams of specialist accident & emergency ambulance personnel who were given specialist training. This £4.3 million initiative was to provide additional preparedness to be able to respond to large-scale hazardous incidents, such as those that might involve chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear material. The work was in concert with the UK government.
As of 2016 there are five SORT teams, three full-time and two on-call. These teams provide a specialist response to major incidents, and provide paramedic care in hostile environments. The team provides capability in arenas such as water rescue, safe working at height, search and rescue including the use of breathing apparatus, and confined space working. The SORT teams also provide a full-time emergency decontamination and inner-cordon capability. The full-time SORT teams also provide specialist support to police firearms teams, using ballistic protection to provide care to casualties in a live-fire zone.
With the remote towns and villages in Scotland often being hours away from advanced medical treatment, Scotstar (paediatrics) and the Emergency Retrieval Service were set up. The Scotstar service was set up on the 1 April 2014 and transported 2,654 patients 2014/2015. The teams are composed of Paediatricians and PICU nurses. The service has access to multiple vehicles including: Specialist ambulances, 2 air ambulance helicopters and 2 air ambulance planes. The service is based at Glasgow Heliport.
The Emergency Medical Retrieval Service was started in 2004 by 10 Emergency Medical Consultants from Glasgow and Paisley. Providing aeromedical cover to six hospitals within Argyll and Bute. The 10 Emergency Medical Consultants only had £40,000 worth of funding for medical equipment. In its first year the service transported 40 patients. In years to follow the clinical crew began to gather evidence for the lifesaving and cost effectiveness of the service. In 2010 the service was opened up to the whole of the country, thanks to backing by permanent funding. The service became part of Scotstar in 2014. The service is staffed by 27 part time consultants, 2 full time registrars and seven Critical Care Practitioners.
The Scottish Ambulance Service operates three Ambulance Control Centres (previously known as EMDCs until June 2012) which provide command & control and 999 call taking facilities for the Service; these are located in Cardonald, South Queensferry and Inverness. These centres operate 24 hours per day 365 days per year and are staffed by Emergency Call Handlers, Emergency Medical Dispatchers and Clinical Advisors. All requests for an ambulance are prioritised using software called the Advanced Medical Priority Dispatch System (AMPDS) and a response is generated according to clinical need. Responses can be in the form of an ambulance, a Paramedic Response Unit, a BASICS Doctor, Emergency Medical Retrieval Service, an Ambulance Officer or a Community First Responder.
The Service has its own dedicated training academy within the campus of Glasgow Caledonian University, which opened in June 2011. The facility has purpose built classrooms, lecture theatres, syndicate rooms and a clinical simulation area that recreates a 16-bed hospital ward and Accident & Emergency department allowing realistic interaction with other trainee healthcare professionals.
Prior to April 2011, the service used its own dedicated training college located at Barony Castle in Eddleston near Peebles. Set in 25 acres (100,000 m2) of formal gardens and woodlands, Barony was a residential training and conference centre with 78 bedrooms that allowed the service to carry out all its training in house.
In 2015/16, the service:Responded to 736,906 accident and emergency incidents.
Carried out 894,691 non-emergency patient journeys.
Flew 3,849 air ambulance missions.
The average response time to life-threatening (Cat A) calls throughout Scotland was 7.4 minutes.
The service employs 4,305 staff, of whom 536 are in support services and administration and 16 are board members.
The ambulances have been painted white since the formation of the Scottish Ambulance Service. The original colour of white was a cream white called "Ambulance White" this has now been replaced by a brighter "Titanium" White. The ambulances originally carried a blue stripe of the sides with "Scottish Ambulance Service" in yellow lettering. The livery was changed to yellow fluorescent stripes sometime between 1986 and 1992. The current livery with Battenburg markings was introduced in 2002.