By The Media Monitor
On Wednesday, Sept 15th Health Secretary Humza Yousaf gave an interview on the Good Morning Scotland radio show. The interview concluded with presenter Gary Robertson asking the Health Secretary whether folk should think twice before calling an ambulance.
The question was unremarkable. Yousaf had just spoken at length about the pressures facing Scottish ambulance crews and the NHS in general. He replied “Yes” but added that if the situation was “absolutely critical” then folk should of course dial 999.
An unremarkable question and a routine answer. Ambulance Services across the UK have for years been urging people to ‘think twice’ or ‘think carefully’ before calling an ambulance when the system is facing extreme pressures. MPs and governments have urged the same.
Within the hour BBC Scotland published an article based on the interview. The article made no mention of the ‘think twice’ advice, instead focusing on the more extensive part of the interview, which was about vaccines for 12-15 year olds.
However two hours later something odd happened. The article was completely rewritten and the headline amended. This time the thrust was the ‘think twice’ advice.
Why the change? A clue was to be found in the article, which now contained attacks on Humza Yousaf from all three Unionist parties.
Leading the attack was Scottish Tory MSP Dr Sandesh Gulhane who described the Health Secretary’s advice as “astonishing” claiming it would “put lives at risk”. Similar sentiments came from Labour MSP Jackie Baillie and Lib Dem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton.
The article was also now BBC Scotland’s top online story with a rather telling headline link which read: ‘Health Secretary faces criticism over ambulance plea‘.
It was clear that something had happened to compel BBC Scotland to change the thrust of its original article. What that ‘something’ was appeared to be a coordinated attack from the three Unionist parties. The attack featured in BBC Scotland news bulletins.
But were the attacks justified? Had BBC Scotland carried out any journalistic checks before amending the article to facilitate them and pushing them in news bulletins? The answer was no.
In fact the advice given by Humza Yousaf is widely accepted across the UK as necessary when the ambulance service is under pressure. It’s been given repeatedly by NHS Trusts and Ambulance Services. Indeed one week before Humza Yousaf issued his ‘think twice’ advice the Welsh Ambulance Service issued near identical advice, asking folk to ‘Please think carefully before you dial 999’.
A casual search revealed that literally scores of ambulance services across England had given out near identical advice in times when their respective ambulance services were under acute pressure. Below are a few examples.
In April 2019 England’s North West Ambulance Services actually advised folk to stop and think before dialling 999.
The Yorkshire Ambulance Service ran a Youtube campaign urging folk to think before calling an ambulance. The ‘Think before you call’ campaign was used last year.
In 2013 the Welsh government urged the public to ‘think carefully’ before calling an ambulance. It was reported by BBC Wales at the time.
One year later, and guess what, the Welsh Deputy Health secretary attacked folk who made ‘non-urgent’ calls to the ambulance service.
Vaughan Gething was endorsing advice given that day by Richard Lee, head of clinical services at the Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust, who said: “We don’t want to deter anyone from calling 999, but we want people to think twice before they do.”
It was beyond dispute that ‘think twice’, ‘think carefully’, ‘think before’ advice before calling an ambulance is widely accepted as sensible and effective by ambulance services across the UK. We’ve listed some above, but there are literally scores of similar advice from NHS Trusts and Ambulance Services stretching back years.
So the question has to be asked? Why, when a cursory check would have revealed them to be bogus, was BBC Scotland headlining the attacks on Humza Yousaf by the three Unionist parties? We can’t say for sure, but circumstantial evidence suggests a political agenda.
The clearly fake attack ran for days. Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross repeated the attack at First Minister’s Questions on Thursday. Ross claimed not to know of any other person in the UK who had urged folk to think twice before calling an ambulance.
Ross apparently wasn’t aware of the multiple ambulance services in England who’d done just that.
Indeed one of Ross’s own party colleagues had himself issued similar advice. On July 23rd, Simon Fell, Tory MP for Barrow, said: “I’d urge people to think carefully before dialling 999.” Fell issued his advice following ambulance queues outside Furness General Hospital. [https://archive.is/vwgMW]
Incredibly, despite all the evidence showing the attacks on Humza Yousaf to be politically motivated garbage, and dangerous garbage at that given they were urging folk to dial 999 without thought, BBC Scotland handed a platform to the Scottish Tories and Scottish Labour on the Friday morning to repeat the attacks.
Scottish Labour MSP Jackie Baillie seemed not to realise that a trade union had demanded the Welsh government introduce a ‘Think Twice’ campaign to prevent non-urgent 999 calls for an ambulance. In 2015 Unison called for “unions, the Welsh government and employers to lead a hard-hitting public campaign encouraging patients to think twice before calling 999 for an ambulance.” [https://www.unison.org.uk/news/article/2015/02/unison-wales-issues-challenge-on-ambulance-times/]
In 2008 one of Baillie’s party colleagues, Labour MP Lynda Waltho, backed a campaign by her local ambulance service that urged the public to ‘think before dialling 999’.
Tory MSP Dr Sandesh Gulhane wasn’t challenged during the Friday interview. Gulhane appeared on The Sunday Show on BBC Scotland two days later. Despite the overwhelming evidence that his claims regarding the ‘think twice’ advice were completely bogus, presenter Martin Geissler again refused to challenge him.
BBC Scotland has shown a disconcerting willingness to promote attacks on Scotland’s Health Minister by Unionist parties whilst showing zero interest in scrutinising the validity of the attacks. It has amended its own initial coverage of an interview with the Health Minister in order to facilitate the attacks. It has wilfully ignored proof that Humza Yousaf’s advice is effective, indeed almost compulsory, and has been in widespread use throughout the UK for years.
BBC Scotland has deliberately sought to undermine key health advice intended to ensure ambulances are available to those most in need of emergency care. In short, it has increased the likelihood that more people will die.
This is a broadcaster that is not just corrupt, but dangerously corrupt. The Scottish government, Scotland’s health professionals and those in the media who value our democracy, our health service and desire an impartial and honest public service broadcaster, need to call this out.