Ambulance union’s safety fears

A union has accused the region's ambulance service of trying to run its emergency vehicles 'on the cheap' by recruiting support workers to help staff ambulances.

The East of England Ambulance Service is recruiting for an extra 72 ambulance support workers (ASWs) and says the move will support paramedics and will mean more double-crewed ambulances are available to get to more patients.

However, Unison fears putting the lesser-trained support workers alongside paramedics will dilute the quality of clinical care and believe it is simply a move to save money by avoiding the higher salaries of emergency medical technicians or fully-qualified paramedics.

The ASWs were introduced into the East of England Ambulance Service Trust two years ago and there are already 80 working within the trust.

The service is now recruiting 72 more across the six counties it covers, and says this is largely because over the past five years it has taken on 456 student ambulance paramedics and opened opportunities up for more than 200 emergency medical technicians to become paramedics, creating a gap in the frontline staff structure.

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The ambulance service says the extra ASWs will provide clinical support to paramedics, who can then concentrate on the clinical care of patients.

Examples of duties include taking blood pressure and blood sugar measurements, the use of all equipment in the ambulance including manual handling equipment, and assisting paramedics in all clinical procedures such as cannulation and intubation.

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Terry Hicks, assistant general manager for the trust's operational performance improvement team, said: 'The use of ASWs in frontline ambulances will fulfil an invaluable role in helping provide a better service for patients.

'It will significantly boost the number of staff on frontline duty, increasing the availability of paramedics to treat more patients as they can be spread across more vehicles, supported by ASWs.'

Kevin Risley, Unison's branch secretary for the East of England Ambulance Service, acknowledged that ASWs do a good job and are a very valuable resource for non life-threatening situations and non-emergency transport.

However, he said the union was in talks with the service because it was worried about the support workers being used on the frontline and for emergency call-outs.

He said: 'The concern we have got is they won't be trained up to the same level as a technician or paramedic and therefore that lessons the quality of the clinical skills on an ambulance.

'Because they won't be trained to that level they won't be paid to that level. This is to save money and to run an ambulance on the cheap.'

In particular, Mr Risley said there were worries that patient safety could be compromised at major emergencies.

He said: 'For example at road traffic collisions where there is more than one patient. We think that has got the potential to compromise care a frontline ambulance gives to those patients.'

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