Ambulance Watch: Region receives a net gain of just seven paramedics

East of England Ambulance Service - Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital at Colney

East of England Ambulance Service - Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital at Colney . - Credit: Evening News � 2009

The region's under scrutiny ambulance service has only expanded its paramedic numbers by seven this year, despite pledges to hire hundreds more front-line staff.

Paramedics infographic.

Paramedics infographic. - Credit: Archant

New figures reveal that the East of England Ambulance Service hired 44 qualified paramedics and three specialist paramedics in the first nine months of this year. However, 40 paramedics left the NHS trust between January and September, according to figures released under a Freedom of Information (FoI) request.

Campaigners last night spoke of their disappointment at the lack of progress in the recruitment of the 231 paramedics and specialist paramedics, which the organisation's interim chief executive pledged to hire as part of its turnaround plan earlier this year.

However, officials at the East of England Ambulance Service said there was a nationwide recruitment issue and they had made offers of employment to 70 paramedics following a recruitment campaign.

The trust also revealed that it has already hit its target of recruiting 96 emergency care assistants as part of its plans to hire 350 front-line staff by the end of March.

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Figures from the FoI request also show how few paramedics were hired in 2012 with 56 leaving the trust, which covers six counties, and only four joining during the whole of last year.

Norman Lamb, North Norfolk MP and health minister, said he was calling on the trust to make some permanent executive recruitments to help restore staff confidence in the workforce. He added that the organisation had failed its trainee paramedics by not completing their training.

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'The recruitment freeze last year was madness and I fail to understand what they were playing at. They spent a fortune on private ambulances and did not refill their front-line force.'

'It shows how morale at the organisation has suffered and continues to suffer. The front-line staff are really dedicated people, but they have become so frustrated with the organisation. We desperately need a dedicated workforce and they need leadership now. I am pressing for a speedy resolution of the permanent leadership of the organisation. It is hard to build the vision with an interim leadership,' he said.

The East of England Ambulance Service has had an interim chief executive since December. It also has interim executives in the positions of chairman, medical director, director of clinical quality, director of service delivery and director of finance.

Denise Burke, of the Act on Ambulances campaign and prospective parliamentary candidate for North Norfolk, said the figures were 'very disappointing.'

'We are never going to get the additional double staffed ambulances if we are not able to build up paramedic numbers - it is absolutely crazy.'

'We accept there is not a quick fix to get the necessary qualified staff, but how much time does this trust need to become fit for purpose? We can not continue to run an ambulance service where the existing staff are doing overtime,' she said.

The trust has recruited three of the 82 specialist paramedics they pledged to hire in April.

A spokesman for the trust said the ambulance service had undertaken a 'comprehensive local and national recruitment campaign' and the organisation was finding £20m of savings to reinvest in front-line services.

'There are a limited number of paramedics in the labour market and there has also been a drop in the number of people undertaking a student paramedic course, therefore there are less paramedics available to be recruited to our vacant positions.

'This is a nationwide issue and we are competing against other ambulance trusts who also have vacancies and are actively trying to recruit paramedics.

'We have also looked to upgrade existing staff to paramedics via an internal career pathway, and we're continually working with universities to enable student paramedics to complete their placements with the trust. Other possible avenues we are looking to explore include looking overseas to recruit paramedics to the trust.'

'This is a long term process that is part of reinvesting in our frontline service in order to ensure we're meeting our patient's needs and giving them the best possible care.

On the issue of retaining staff, the spokesman said: 'We're committed to retaining our current workforce and are actively working to ensure paramedics feel engaged with their work and the trust. Our paramedic turnover has so far decreased this year in comparison to last year.

'We offer regular training to our staff and clinical education opportunities to widen and advance their skillset, and we've started a Listening into Action programme which is run on both a regional and local basis and ensures we are listening to the views of our staff and taking them on board.'

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