Scotland could face a shortage of paramedics in future if students in the profession are not given the same bursaries as those training to become nurses and midwives, union leaders have warned.
Unison is demanding action on the issue after a campaign for student paramedics to receive bursary payments won cross-party support in the run-up to the Holyrood election.
It comes as changes being brought in from September will mean those who wish to become paramedics have to complete a three-year degree – rather than undergoing apprentice-style, on-the-job training.
Student paramedic Lisa Tainish said: “Where there once was a pay-as-you-learn apprenticeship for paramedics, we now have three years of expensive education to pay for.
“Student paramedics are at a disadvantage when it comes to supporting studies with a part-time job in the traditional student employers such as retail and hospitality.
“You physically can’t finish a busy eight to 12-hour frontline placement, witnessing traumatic events like death or serious injury, then go sit behind a shop till or bar with a smile on your face.”
Ms Tainish, a member of the Pay Student Paramedics campaign, insisted: “The placement work we do is work and should be paid.
“Our research clearly shows that financial pressure has paramedic students on the verge of choosing a different career.
“The brutal reality is that unless support such as a bursary, already given to student nurses, gets put in place, Scotland could be facing a critical shortage of paramedics.
“All the political parties gave us a commitment they would sort this out. Now it’s time for action.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We are committed to the introduction of a bursary for student paramedics as quickly as possible.
“We are working with the Student Awards Agency Scotland to do this at the earliest opportunity.”