Ambulance boss ‘demanded 999 call handler give him a lift home from airport while on shift’

Scottish Ambulance Service
Scottish Ambulance Service

A senior ambulance boss demanded a 999 call handler leave their post to pick him and his family up from an airport after a holiday, an employment tribunal heard.

Christopher Gallacher was sacked from the Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) after he called in a “favour” from a colleague and requested a pool car to collect him from Glasgow Airport after the family trip.

Mr Gallacher, a duty manager at West Centre in Glasgow, then “specifically requested” to be driven by a new, junior member of the team on a busy evening where some patients had been waiting “lengthy periods of time”.

The call handler was away from their post for more than 45 minutes while they picked Mr Gallacher up, the tribunal heard.

An investigation found Mr Gallacher, who had worked for the ambulance service for 20 years, had “knowingly depleted” cover, resulting in him being sacked for gross misconduct.

At an employment tribunal, an employment judge rejected Mr Gallacher’s attempt to sue SAS for unfair dismissal.

They ruled that Mr Gallacher was responsible for the “best use of resources” in a position with a “high level of autonomy and leadership” and that upon being sacked bosses acted fairly and reasonably.

‘Knowingly depleting 999 cover’

Mr Gallacher was suspended on July 19, 2022 after it was brought to the attention of SAS that he had “used a pool car for private use to collect him [and his family] upon return from holiday on July 17”, the hearing was told.

A lengthy investigation was carried out in February 2023, and recommended that Mr Gallacher address allegations of using a vehicle for personal gain, asking a colleague to use it, while they were on shift, which was “knowingly depleting cover”.

His disciplinary hearing took place May 2023, after it was agreed an allegation of bringing the service into “disrepute” would be added to considerations.

In a letter to Mr Gallacher, the disciplinary officer upheld all of the allegations, finding he had asked “a favour” from a colleague for use of a pool vehicle.

He then “specifically requested” a different new and junior call handler to go and collect him during a shift. The hearing heard this particular evening had been busy with a “high number of calls” and some patients waiting “lengthy periods of time”.

Mr Gallacher said he “assumed” the journey would be made during the colleague’s unpaid 45-minute break – but the hearing was told this was not the case.

“While [Mr Gallacher] had not intended his request to impact upon patient safety it clearly had the potential to do so,” the hearing was told.

‘Abused position’

The officer concluded it had not been fraudulent, but stated he had “abused his position” and made an “irresponsible” decision.

As a result of upholding all the allegations, Mr Gallacher was sacked for gross misconduct in May 2023.

He appealed the decision, claiming other pool cars had been used “in an inappropriate way” previously and highlighted the “absence” of a clear written policy against such practice. But it was rejected in July 2023.

Employment judge David Hoey said: “It was clear that Mr Gallacher’s actions had taken a pool vehicle of [the SAS]’s out of duty for a period of in excess of 45 minutes [with a member of staff being out of the building for that period].

“That was not insignificant given the nature of the business and the fast changing environment in which it operated.

“That in itself was a very serious failure and demonstrated a severe lack of good judgement and decision making.

“It was the irresponsible decision making that had led, in large part, to his dismissal. That outcome was an outcome that a reasonable employer could reach.”

Dismissing his claim of unfair dismissal, the judge added: “Having considered each of the individual factors, the Tribunal was satisfied [SAS] acted fairly and reasonably.

“There were other options open to [SAS] and other employers may well have approached matters differently but on the facts of this case in relation to each individual matter, the approach of [SAS] was fair and reasonable.

“Ultimately dismissal was a decision that was fair and reasonable in all the circumstances

“It was not a spur of the moment decision nor something in the heat of the moment – Mr Gallacher knowingly sought to use [SAS]’s property solely for his personal use.

“He held a senior position and he ought to have understood the context within which the decision he took would be viewed.”

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