'There simply aren't enough paramedics to go around' - The 'staffing crisis' facing our ambulance service
PUBLISHED: 19:56 24 September 2019 | UPDATED: 19:57 24 September 2019
There are fears of a growing 'staffing crisis' at the East of England Ambulance Service - with union officials warning "there simply aren't enough paramedics to go around".
Workforce remains the trust's "biggest risk to delivering a safe service", performance documents submitted to Suffolk's two clinical commissioning groups reveal - as it emerged there were nearly 300 fewer frontline staff in post at EEAST at the end of July (2,844) against a plan of 3,100.
Meanwhile, the rate of people leaving the trust has reduced to around three per week, which has been noted as "progress" by commissioners.
Now calls have been made for the Government to step in and put an end to what union officials have called "a staffing crisis" - with watchdog Healthwatch Suffolk describing the trust's recruitment problem as "long-standing" and "deep-rooted".
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EEAST bosses say they have invested in localised recruitment using staff knowledge and expertise, alongside new apprenticeships, professional development, training and education.
Yet recruitment for frontline vacancies in Suffolk and north east Essex remains a concern, according to the documents - with "static performance" recorded in recent months.
'Government needs to act'
"It's no great surprise that the trust has failed to fill the gaps - there simply aren't enough paramedics and other ambulance staff to go around," said Sam Older, of the eastern branch of UNISON.
"And this short-staffing means those left on the frontline end up overworked, stressed and looking for somewhere else to take their skills.
He added: "To put an end to this staffing crisis will take more than action in Suffolk or the east of England.
"The problem needs to be recognised at Westminster and the Government needs to act."
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Recruitment problems have meant hear and treat triage capacity - which sees ambulance staff give patients advice over the phone - has reduced by a third (20 whole time equivalent vacancies), which has led to "decreased performance".
"Conveyance to emergency departments is not in line with target of 57% of calls requiring a response," the document adds.
"Service remains under severe pressure at peak demand."
Such concerns come after a recent Care Quality Commission report warned the service did not have enough staff to keep patients safe - and after an independent service review, which warned EEAST needed to recruit hundreds more staff.
Recruitment problems 'long-standing' and 'deep-rooted'
Andy Yacoub, chief executive of Healthwatch Suffolk said the issue required "urgent attention" ahead of winter and added: "The ambulance service is by no means isolated in experiencing problems with the recruitment of staff. That said, we are naturally concerned about the impact these ongoing workforce issues may be having on staff and patient wellbeing.
"We must recognise that the challenges faced by our local NHS and care services are significant, complex and diverse.
"However, the ultimate success of any plans to improve ambulance services and to address the concerns of CQC rely critically on tackling these long standing and deep-rooted problems with recruitment."
Recruitment a 'key priority' at trust
Representatives for the ambulance service said they are working day in and day out to provide a safe service for patients.
"EEAST, in common with many other parts of the NHS and especially other ambulance services, works in an environment of increasing demand, financial pressures and challenges to the long-term recruitment and retention of staff," a spokesman said.
"The recruitment, training and retention of highly skilled and highly motivated staff at all levels is a key priority for the trust.
"We have invested in localised recruitment using the knowledge and expertise of our staff to attract people to the organisation.
"In addition, we have listened to feedback from colleagues and have put in place a strong transformation plan to enable us to implement many initiatives, such as a new responsive operating model to deliver sustainable performance and improved outcomes for patients."
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He added: "We are investing in new apprenticeships, professional development, training and education and providing extended career opportunities and volunteer support.
"Beyond these measures, the trust is fully engaged with the wider health and social care system and other emergency services partners across the region to ensure that we have strong, tested and sustainable systems in place to deal with high levels of demand and in line with best practice and national standards."