Ambulance Watch: MPs and unions welcome front-line ambulance recruitment drive

East of England Ambulance Trust ambulances work out out of the Norwich office in Hellesdon.PHOTO BY

East of England Ambulance Trust ambulances work out out of the Norwich office in Hellesdon.PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY - Credit: Archant Norfolk

Union officials and MPs last night welcomed a plan to recruit more than 350 new front-line staff to turnaround the performance of the region's failing ambulance service.

The interim chief executive of the East of England Ambulance Service said the NHS trust was 'letting down' patients and staff and has committed an extra £5m to improve emergency operations this year, which will mainly be used to improve response times in rural areas.

Under a turnaround plan, Andrew Morgan, has made a pledge to hire 351 paramedics, technicians, and emergency care assistants (ECA) as well as adding an additional 25 double staffed ambulances to its fleet in 2013/14.

The action plan, which will be presented at the ambulance trust's board meeting in Norwich on Thursday, was widely welcomed yesterday. However, some critics questioned how the NHS trust would deliver what it promised at a time when it has to make more than £50m of savings. It comes as the organisation looks to address slow response times and raise staff morale following months of concerns from patients, staff, and MPs and calls by the healthcare regulator Care Quality Commission (CQC) to raise its game.

Mr Morgan, former chief executive of NHS Norfolk and Waveney, said there had been a 'lack of clear and visible leadership' at the East of England Ambulance Service, and the pursuit of Foundation Trust status had resulted in a 'lack of focus on the core business'.

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He added that the NHS trust had become too reliant on the use of Rapid Response Vehicles (RRV), particularly in rural areas, and the use of private ambulances to attend patients.

'We know we work in changed times, we know that this is having an impact on the lives of our staff and we know that we are failing some of our patients. We have to change. We have to demonstrate better leadership. We have to support staff better. We have to provide more resources for front-line service delivery,' he said.

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Mr Morgan has also pledged to reduce staff sickness in the trust which is around 10pc.

'It is clear that some of our behaviours in the past have been unacceptable and unprofessional. Some staff have talked of being bullied. This approach or behaviour has no place in this trust,' he said.

However, Norman Lamb, MP for North Norfolk and health minister, said he found it 'extraordinary' that the turnaround plan had been published ahead of receiving the official findings of a Department of Health-commissioned review of the NHS trust by Anthony Marsh, CEO of the West Midlands Ambulance Service, to help transform the fortunes of the under-fire organisation.

'I welcome the turnaround plan and in a sense it is the first concrete sign of the fight back so that we secure ambulance services that we can rely on. At last there is a clear plan to get back to the level we expect,' he said.

Peter Aldous, MP for Waveney, said the report was 'good news' and it was essential that the extra resource was placed where need was greatest in rural Norfolk and Suffolk.

'There is going to be a recruitment drive for more front-line staff and I am heartened by the significant number of paramedics and specialist paramedics and in the past there was too much focus on ECAs and technicians and a lot of paramedics felt too much of the burden was being placed on them,' he said.

Gary Applin, Unison branch secretary for the East of England Ambulance Service, said the turnaround plan had the support of union members. 'There are serious problems in the organisation that we have highlighted and the plan looks good on paper. We will continue to work together with the CEO in partnership to make sure that areas of improvement which are highlighted within the plan are implemented. We will also challenge if things are not changed for the benefit of staff and patients,' he said.

Richard Bacon, South Norfolk MP, added: 'The ambulance trust's turnaround plan provides a refreshingly frank acknowledgement of what has been going wrong. The answers to some of the trust's problems lie with other bodies, most notably the region's hospitals. The trust will need to work closely with hospitals and the new Clinical Commissioning Groups to make sure that its plan succeeds.'

Denise Burke, from the North Norfolk Labour Party and Act on Ambulances campaign, added: 'More resource and staff will take time to materialise, so we hope the trust has a strategy to bring improvements now to avoid more of the horror stories we have heard from patients. We have had a number of promises from Andrew Morgan that did not fully materialise, we hope this announcement will not be another.'

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