Suffolk: Dramatic rise in number of emergency care assistants attending 999 calls in place of paramedics

There has been a dramatic rise in the number of Emergency Care Assistants attending 999 emergency calls with the East of England Ambulance Service There has been a dramatic rise in the number of Emergency Care Assistants attending 999 emergency calls with the East of England Ambulance Service

Wednesday, January 22, 2014
12:20 PM

Medical support staff with as little as six weeks training are responding to thousands of emergency 999 calls instead of qualified paramedics at the East of England Ambulance Service, it can be revealed.

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New figures highlight the dramatic rise in the number of emergency calls attended by only Emergency Care Assistants (ECA).

According to the EEAST data, 18,815 emergency calls were attended solely by ECAs last year - a rise on the 767 recorded in 2011.

ECAs are being used as “first responders” and put in charge of ambulances called to a range of potentially life-threatening situations where they have, in cases, been required to resuscitate patients.

ECAs are trained in emergency first aid, deliver a range of clinical care under supervision, use ambulance equipment, are trained in emergency driving and assist with restocking and cleaning the vehicles and equipment after use.

Official guidance states ECAs should provide support to, and be guided by, more qualified clinical staff and that they should be crewed with, and normally work alongside, a paramedic as part of a frontline crew.

Gary Applin, UNISON branch secretary at EEAST, said the union warned ECAs should not be used as a frontline resource as they do not have enough training to deliver a “sufficient range of emergency clinical care”.

He added: “Despite being hard-working and dedicated professionals they often find themselves in situations that risk their own safety and patient care.

“It is particularly risky when the Trust crews an ambulance with two ECAs and it is then sent to be the first vehicle on the scene of an incident or to back up a solo responder.

“Patients often expect them to deliver a level of clinical care that they are unable to do.

“Moreover because they are unable to respond to a patient with deteriorating health, they often can’t transport a patient to hospital without being escorted by a paramedic in another vehicle.

“This means that two vehicles are being deployed to transport a single patient – a crazy way to deploy resources when there are not enough ambulances on the road.”

EEAST employs 445 ECAs who attended a total of 24,232 emergency calls between 2011 and 2013.

Junior health minister Dr Dan Poulter, MP for North Ipswich and Central Suffolk, said it was time for EEAST to “get a grip”.

He added: “The Marsh review, which was published last summer, highlighted some of the catastrophic failures in management at the trust and clearly one of those issues, recently highlighted by high profile cases in Norfolk, is where people, with not necessarily the right skills, have been sent to deliver care in inappropriate situations.

“There are real concerns over some of the decisions made by senior management from 2010 to the publication of the Marsh review.

“We have now got to give the Trust some time to get a grip on these issues and sort them out but they need to do so quickly.

“We need to see the senior management invest in the right numbers of staff on the frontline and the right vehicles to deliver the service patients in Suffolk deserve.”

Dr Poulter said Suffolk MPs will hold a meeting with EEAST in the spring holding them to account to ensure the service is making the necessary progress.

Rob Ashford, EEAST’s director of service delivery, said the Trust is no longer recruiting ECAs - a move which has been welcomed by UNISON.

Mr Ashford added: “We recognise that we need more paramedics which is one of the reasons why we’ve stopped recruiting ECAs and will only be taking on graduate and student paramedics as this will undoubtedly improve the care we give to patients.

“Our current ECAs remain a vital part of the workforce but over the coming months we will be looking to train as many of them as possible as emergency medical technicians and hopefully, thereafter, paramedics. Developing our workforce is the right thing to do for staff and patients.”

8 comments

  • Just how long ago was it that Cameron stood at the dispatch box and said "the NHS is safe in our hands" ?

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    freedomf

    Wednesday, January 22, 2014

  • Just how long ago was it that Cameron stood at the dispatch box ans said "the NHS is safe in our hands" ?

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    freedomf

    Wednesday, January 22, 2014

  • I think ECA's are great and far more qualified than the numpties the government are happy to sit at the other end of the NHS 111 phone call .

    Report this comment

    Nigel Large

    Wednesday, January 22, 2014

  • Sadly this is the reality for those of us who work in the health service.. hospital or community.

    Report this comment

    gillymax

    Saturday, January 25, 2014

  • You can't blame the government for this one, it's purely down to bad management. EEAST had the money, where advised where to spend it and totally ignored the advice. They spent it on ECAs who through no fault of their own are not qualified enough and Patient transport drivers (mini bus drivers in fancy dress), who although they drive mini buses, seem to be incapable of transporting more than one person at a time! Dial a ride could do the majority of Patient transport runs at far less cost, releasing money for the much needed and respected Blue light boys and girls!

    Report this comment

    kevinwj

    Wednesday, January 22, 2014

  • Its 111 all over again!

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    gillymax

    Saturday, January 25, 2014

  • When will the Government accept that we need to stop looking at Health Care as a business. As soon as you look at balancing the books, restructuring, redesigning and all the other current talk you compromise care. Frontline managers job is to balance the books not manage the staff and the care they give.

    Report this comment

    Footyfan

    Wednesday, January 22, 2014

  • Its 111 all over again!

    Report this comment

    gillymax

    Saturday, January 25, 2014

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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