Suffolk: Shock over 999 service’s �37.5m bill for overtime

SUFFOLK: Serious concerns were today raised after it emerged the ambulance service had forked out a staggering �37.5million for overtime payments in only FOUR years.

An Evening Star investigation has also found that East of England Ambulance Service (EEAST) workers have spent nearly 23,000 days off work sick with stress over the past two years alone – a figure which equates to nearly 63 years.

The shock findings have prompted one Suffolk MP to call for “action or change at the top”.

Dr Dan Poulter, MP for North Ipswich and Central Suffolk, said the overtime payments and levels of stressed staff proved the service was not properly resourced. “These figures reinforce the need for management to get a grip of the situation,” he added.

“We have consistently seen the ambulance service failing to invest in professional support and provide the required number of paramedics on the frontline. These figures only reaffirm the need for more investment.”

The statistics, released under the Freedom of Information Act, show 443 individuals employed by EEAST were off ill for a total of 22,848 calendar days from October 2009 and September 2011 – equivalent to more than 50 days each.

The Evening Star relaunched its Ambulance Watch campaign earlier this year after figures published by the Department of Health revealed EEAST is the only trust in the country which failed to meet its target of answering 75 per cent of the most urgent calls – Category A calls – within eight minutes (A8) during July.

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Figures obtained by the Star last month reveal, while the service hit their A8 target across the whole region last year, in Suffolk the trust fell short by 7pc, reaching only 68pc of patients within eight minutes.

Dr Poulter believes frontline staff are spending more time off sick because of the increasing overtime they are having to work.

In July 2006, EEAST employed 4,050 members of staff but as of April this year the service only had 3,936 workers on its books. Since 2008 a total of 4,193 employees have claimed overtime costing �37.5m.

But the East of England Ambulance Service Trust has defended the sickness figures as in line with the national average.

As of August sickness levels at the Trust were 6.4 per cent in comparison with NHS ambulance services nationally which range from 5pc to 7.9pc.

A spokeswoman said EEAST had implemented several initiatives resulting in levels of stress-related sickness falling. She said: “Our staff are our greatest asset and we take their wellbeing extremely seriously.

“We recognise that sickness absence needs careful management and we strive to work with staff very closely over any issues they may have, whether work or home related, and offer them extensive support.” To help reduce absence levels the Trust launched a revised Sickness Absence Management.

Addressing the cost of overtime, the spokeswoman said: “Overtime is factored in at budget setting level as a necessary resource to address highly volatile demand levels when employing fixed resources, which would be superfluous to demand for significant periods of time, would not be cost-effective.

“Having said that more sophisticated demand analysis has enabled us to stabilise overtime levels over the past three years against a 15pc rise in demand and we are continuing to work on managing this even more effectively in the future.”

n Is the ambulance service overstretched? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail evening

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