Claim more than 12,000 died before ambulance could reach hospital in 2023 is False 3

Claim more than 12,000 died before ambulance could reach hospital in 2023 is False

Scottish Labour has repeatedly criticised the Scottish Government’s record on the health service. 

In an exchange during First Minister’s Questions on 8 February, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar suggested that the number of people dying after ambulances were called had increased significantly. 

There were more than 12,000 people last year for whom an ambulance was called but who died before reaching hospital. That figure is up from just over 7,100 in 2019, which is an increase of more than 70 per cent in just four years.

Anas Sarwar, Scottish Labour leader

Ferret Fact Service looked at this claim and found it False

Ferret Fact Service | Scotland's impartial fact check project


Sarwar’s claim is based on statistics from the Scottish Ambulance Service, obtained by Scottish Labour after a freedom of information request. 

The party was trying to find out how many people died before reaching hospital, when an ambulance was called for them. 

Scottish Ambulance Service has various technical terms that it uses when someone has died. 

The two classifications that Scottish Labour asked about were pronunciation of life extinct (PLE) and recognition of life extinct (ROLE).

They are used for when the ambulance service confirms someone has died before they have reached hospital.

The statistics revealed in the FOI show that in 2023, there were 6,090 pronunciations of life extinct and 6,088 recognitions of life extinct.

Scottish Labour has combined these two figures to claim that “more than 12,000 people” for whom an ambulance was called had died before reaching hospital last year. 

However, the Scottish Ambulance Service confirmed to Ferret Fact Service that there was double-counting within these figures, with some people being classified as both ROLE and PLE.

This is down to the definitions of each classification. ROLE is the process that is followed by a clinician, after which some can be pronounced as life extinct, or PLE. 

However this appears to be inconsistently recorded. Some people who have died in these circumstances have been entered into the digital records as PLE, some as ROLE and some as both. The Scottish Ambulance Service told Ferret Fact Service that the correct number for 2023 with this double-counting removed was 8,764, not more than 12,000. 

These two classifications are in the process of being phased out, and replaced with a generalised confirmation of death (COD).

However, we also do not know exactly when people died, or whether a person died as a result of the time it took for the ambulance to arrive and the patient to be transferred to hospital.

The ambulance service stated in the FOI response that it does not record the actual time of death, and that it is “difficult to distinguish those who died in Scottish Ambulance Service care or who died before our arrival”.

Ferret Fact Service verdict: False

Anas Sarwar’s claim that more than 12,000 people in 2023 died before reaching hospital after an ambulance was called is not accurate. Due to double counting in the statistics, the number is 8,764. We cannot say whether, in these cases, people would have survived should the ambulance have come earlier.

This claim is false

Ferret Fact Service (FFS) is a non-partisan fact checker, and signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network fact-checkers’ code of principles.

All the sources used in our checks are publicly available and the FFS fact-checking methodology can be viewed here.

Want to suggest a fact check?

Email us at or join our Facebook group.

Hi! You can login using the form below.
Not registered yet?
Having trouble logging in? Try here.