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East of England: Ambulance service’s £250,000 PR jobs bill “ludicrous”

PUBLISHED: 16:15 01 April 2014 | UPDATED: 09:19 02 April 2014

An ambulance from the East of England Ambulance Service

An ambulance from the East of England Ambulance Service

The East of England Ambulance Service has been severely criticised for spending almost a quarter of a million pounds on public relations salaries last year.

The trust, which at the time the data was collected employed five members of staff for PR purposes, spent £247,406 on the jobs – more than any other ambulance service in the country including the London Ambulance Service.

In recent months the Trust has repeatedly failed to hit response time targets and in January part of its funding was withheld after it fell short of national standards.

Yesterday the trust defended its expenditure, saying their communications team provided, “a vital reference point for patients, stakeholders and the media”.

The expenditure included a fixed-term contract for a Communications and Change Manager on a salary of over £50,000 which came to an end last month.

However the chief executive of the Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA), which uncovered the expenditure, described it as a “ludicrous amount of money”, while Dr Dan Poulter MP said it was “extraordinary”.

The next highest-spending ambulance service for public relations jobs at the time the data was collected was the North West Ambulance Service NHS Trust, which wasn’t far behind on £244,025.

The London Ambulance Service NHS Trust came in third for PR jobs expenditure at £234,831. All the figures include pension contributions.

In the East of England the ambulance trust spent more than any other NHS body on PR salaries, with the next highest being Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust which spent £198,436.

The Director of Communications and Engagement at Mid-Essex Hospital Services earned 7th place in the TPA’s ‘Best Paid Unnecessary Jobs’ list with a salary plus pension contribution totalling £99,850. However this constituted the entirety of their PR salary expenditure.

A spokesman for Mid-Essex Hospitals said the information in the TPA report was “inaccurate and misleading”.

“The role mentioned of Director of Communications and Engagement is not a press relations role but focused to improve patient experience through improving patient information, web site content for patients and staff, the hospitals PALS, complaints and patient support services, our volunteers service and chaplaincy,” he said.

“The role is closely linked with patient service user groups and the Patient Council to ensure the hospital listens to and acts upon the feedback and requirements of patients. Additionally the role leads internal communications which are a vital part of good leadership in a hospital employing over 5000 staff which requires daily updates and information to be shared.”

John Isaby of the TPA said of the East of England Ambulance Service Trust that local residents wanted an effective ambulance service that reached them on time, “not a highly paid communications chief spinning the news”.

“The trust should stop wasting money on unnecessary jobs and focus resources where they’re actually needed,” he said.

Dr Dan Poulter, MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich and a health minister, said it was down to every NHS Trust to redirect money into frontline patient care.

“What’s particularly distressing about this is that the East of England Ambulance Service has a track record of failing to invest in the right areas,” he said.

“£250,000 could be 10 paramedics working on the ground and when there has been a consistent failure of leadership from the East of England Ambulance Service and it is consistently pointed out in reports that one of the main failings of leadership has been to spend money in the back office, this underlines that there needs to be a serious rethink about what the priorities are and the East of England Ambulance Service needs to make sure that the investment in additional paramedics and ambulances, which is long overdue, now comes about in a timely manner.”

Yesterday a spokesman for the East of England Ambulance Service said: “The Trust’s communications team has already reduced the cost of its services since these figures were released by more than £50,000, money which will be reinvested into frontline services.

“The Trust is reviewing all of its support services including the communications team to maximise the amount of money it can put into staffing ambulances.

“The communications team provide a vital reference point for patients, stakeholders and the media, raising awareness of the work of the ambulance service and its dedicated staff, how to use the 999 service and driving forward transparency.”

The investigation did not go without its own criticism. Christina McAnea, head of health at Unison, described it as “foolish” to speculate on the content of a job from the title.

“Since when has the so-called TaxPayers’ Alliance been the expert on what jobs are needed in the NHS and what are not? And how much of the NHS’s time and precious money has it wasted asking for this pointless information?” she asked.

A spokesperson for NHS England said: “It is critical that the NHS gets every penny it can into frontline care. There are now 20,500 fewer administrative roles in the NHS and 14,500 more professionally qualified clinicians than in 2010. Communications professionals throughout the NHS do provide vital support in sharing information across 1.3 million NHS staff, and being open with the public about how the NHS works.”

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