Ambulance chiefs have today been criticised for leaving hundreds of front-line posts empty – while failing to meet response targets and being repeatedly criticised for letting patients down.

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In a move branded “irrational” by a health minister, figures from a Freedom of Information request show the East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST) left up to 10pc of its front-line jobs vacant and at the same time spent millions of pounds on private ambulances and staff overtime.

In 2011, 207 front-line posts were vacant – 9.7pc of front-line jobs – and last month more than 10pc remained unfilled. The figures undermine recent boasts from ambulance bosses about recruiting 350 new front-line jobs - because 239 of them will actually be to fill existing vacancies.

Health minister and north Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said today: “For a significant period of last year they had a recruitment freeze which I find quite extraordinary.

“We know over the same period they had massive use of private ambulances at an enormous cost.

“As far as I can see it is irrational. They knew they had a growing crisis last year. Why did they leave these places vacant? Why did they allow this to carry on for so long?”

The ambulance service today refused to comment on why more than 200 vacancies had been left unfilled.

It did, however, confirm that 44 of 200 front-line jobs announced in January were new posts.

The lack of action to fill the roles of paramedics and emergency care assistants comes at the same time as failings within the service, highlighted by the EDP’s Ambulance Watch campaign, have let patients down.

On April 25 the EDP reported how Wymondham grandmother Isabel Carter died after waiting for four hours for an ambulance.

And an inquest in January heard how a Brandon veterinary nurse’s chances of survival were “substantially reduced” by “systematic and individual failings” within the ambulance service.

At the same time as leaving the vacancies empty, the trust has spent more than £20m on overtime and private ambulances in a year, while needing to save £50m in five years.

As reported in the EDP on April 16, the service spent more than £12m in 2012 on staff overtime.

On April 5 the EDP reported that in the last financial year £8,860,626 was spent on private ambulances.

The pressure on front-line staff working longer hours to make up for shortages has also been put down to high staff sickness levels by unions. Staff sickness rates at the ambulance service are around 10pc.

Denise Burke, from the North Norfolk Labour Party and Act on Ambulances campaign said: “It is a very embarrassing situation. I am not surprised by the latest revelations. We took the latest announcement with a pinch of salt because we have had promises made by Andrew Morgan (interim chief executive) before.”

Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey said patients needed to be assured that the move to recruit 350 front-line staff did not involve “double counting”.

She called for the recruitment process to be open and transparent.

• A mother who attempted to resuscitate her baby while waiting 30 minutes for an ambulance has said more front-line staff should be recruited by the trust.

The EDP highlighted the tragedy of three-month-old Bella Hellings last Friday. Her mother Amy Carter said she received instructions over the phone on how to resuscitate her child, who had a heart condition, when she fell ill on March 11 at their home in Thetford. Miss Carter, 24, said an ambulance arrived after 30 minutes but then appeared to get lost as it made its way to West Suffolk Hospital.

Responding to news that the ambulance service has left more than 10pc of its front-line vacancies unfilled, she said: “They do need more staff. The whole system is wrong. It is not the paramedics’ fault.”

Miss Carter is now taking legal advice.

Her solicitor Sharon Allison said: “It’s impossible to imagine the terror and anguish of Bella’s parents as they went through delay after delay in trying to get urgent treatment for their baby.

“It’s every parent’s nightmare. Amy and her partner, Scott Hellings, are still in shock and the grief is still very raw, but they are desperate to find out how their child’s death could have happened.”

It is understood that Miss Carter’s 999 call was categorised by the trust as an A8, meaning that the target response time was eight minutes.

The inquest into Bella’s death was opened on March 22 and the ambulance service is investigating the death.

9 comments

  • Will the Trust be asking Mr Hayden for the return of tax payers money from his golden handshake to compensate the ambulance service - after all he was in charge of this fiasco up until recently, all of the above took place on HIS watch? Or are we going to continue financing incompetence with Tax payers money?

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    Farquarson-Smythe

    Tuesday, May 7, 2013

  • Norman Lamb is completely ignoring the fact that the funding from the NHS is being cut by his central government. Trusts are being forced to hold vacancies as its the only way to balance the books in the short term. A blame game and pointing fingers will not solve this very real issue for the whole health system in Norfolk.

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    lucylocket

    Tuesday, May 7, 2013

  • When you see a story like this , it all comes down to trying to save money . Short term savings , gives a worse service in the mediumlong term . The whole business is rotten , from selling the city centre N&N and putting it in the middle of nowhere , funding it on a PFI that was daylight robbery , not making it big enough . Then having a very poor ambulance service . And always Norman , never accepting responsibility , always acting as if he`s in opposition .

    Report this comment

    dragonfly

    Tuesday, May 7, 2013

  • Such a state of affairs is not uncommon in the private sector - posts deliberately left vacant to save money and then only filled if the existing staff scream loud enough. Buying in of temporary cover is pretty well standard practice in most companies including very rarely replacing women on maternity leave. It is one of the few ways of saving substantially on the salary bill because managers know that staff will pull together and survive because that is simply what most people instinctively do. Is it right? No, but it's life in the business world and has been for a very long time. Seems the rot has been copied in the public sector no doubt from employing private sector managers!

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    JanieH

    Tuesday, May 7, 2013

  • I find it "Quite extraordinary" that LAMB has the front to berate others, when He and the ruling Govt have continually cut funding to the NHS and Ambulance Service ? You are not kidding anyone Mr Lamb with your fake indignation.

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    Farquarson-Smythe

    Wednesday, May 8, 2013

  • My father died in my car after I made the decision to drive him to hospital after being told he faced a FOUR hour wait. I started a petition and have been inundated with others who have suffered such misery. It would appear to me that human lives no longer have a value. Despicable.

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    Lynne Wye

    Tuesday, May 7, 2013

  • This is part privatisation of the Ambulance service by the back door. By, "buying in," private ambulances you don`t have to worry about on costs, payment of sick leave, provision of pensions etc. It might be cheaper in the short term but in the long term quality of service always suffers.

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    BG

    Tuesday, May 7, 2013

  • Hmmm. Three letters. P. F. I. Delivering yesterdays services at tomorrows prices. It seems horribly ironic that such great value for money should result in the continued deaths of those that relied on the NHS when they needed it the most. I wonder how Morgan would act if HE had to spend hours waiting for an ambulance that never appeared while a loved one slowly died in front of him?

    Report this comment

    Fenscape

    Wednesday, May 8, 2013

  • Norman Lamb you cannot blame the Trust. You voted for the cuts, they made cutbacks. They can't afford to employ staff full time because of your cuts, so their response to your 'criticisms' over response time is overtime and private ambulances. Dear me.

    Report this comment

    Jeffrey Osborne

    Tuesday, May 7, 2013

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