Front-line staff win fight to increase ambulance cover in north Norfolk

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

Parts of Norfolk are set to receive a significant increase in ambulance cover after front-line staff won a two year battle against a reduction in services.

The region's under-fire ambulance trust has pledged to raise staffing and ambulance numbers in north Norfolk after a formal complaint by staff was upheld.

Front-line paramedics working at Cromer and North Walsham ambulance stations submitted a collective grievance to the East of England Ambulance Service in October 2011 after raising fears about a lack of vehicles, which had resulted in slow response times. They also called for plans to reduce ambulance cover to be abandoned.

The formal complaint, which was upheld following a meeting on June 12, means that the NHS trust is set to increase the number of double manned ambulance hours in north Norfolk from 504 hours a week to 614 hours.

The news was welcomed by campaigners last night after new figures revealed a big difference in ambulance response times across Norfolk. Statistics released by the East of England Ambulance Service for the month of May show that the trust responded to 92pc of the most urgent 999 calls within eight minutes in the Norwich Clinical Commissioning Group area. However, that figure was 60pc for south Norfolk, 65pc for west Norfolk, and 67pc for north Norfolk.

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A grievance panel agreed with front-line staff concerns that the level of double manned ambulances needed to the increased in north Norfolk to the levels in October 2011, if not higher, because 'a safe effective ambulance response is not being provided in their area.'

The panel chairman, a senior manager in the trust, said they would also bring staff concerns to the attention of the chief executive after calls were made for the resignation of Neil Storey, director of operations, in the grievance hearing.

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Norman Lamb, North Norfolk MP and health minister, said the conclusion of the formal grievance was 'very good news' for ambulance staff and patients.

'This is a very significant decision and I applaud the paramedics for their persistence and perseverance. It will have a very significant positive impact in north Norfolk and they have proved their concerns about the bad decision to reduce cover.'

'The paramedics throughout all of this have been motivated by their genuine concern about the effect on patients of the way the trust has been run. I think we are beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel,' he said.

Andrew Morgan, interim chief executive of the ambulance trust, pledged to recruit 350 front-line staff and put 25 extra ambulances on the roads as part of his turnaround plan in April.

Denise Burke, of the North Norfolk Labour Party and chairman of the Act on Ambulances campaign, said the NHS trust had made pledges in the past to increase double manned ambulances, but did not have the staff to run them. 'We will continue to be concerned because we have had these promises made by the chief executive Andrew Morgan in the past and all we have had are false hopes,' she said.

The East of England Ambulance Service continues to fail to hit national response targets.

South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon said the latest performance figures showed that rural patients were receiving a second class ambulance service.

'These figures are a stark reminder that people living in rural East Anglia are paying the price for the ambulance trust's difficulties. Rural Norfolk, including my constituency, is suffering most.'

'This has nothing to do with the dedication and commitment of the ambulance staff, which is exemplary. The problem is that managers are not deploying enough staff to double-crewed ambulances and this needs to change in order to improve performance. The trust simply must put more ambulances on duty into the rural areas of Norfolk. The requirement is clear and the trust should be acting upon this now,' he said.

A spokesman for the East of England Ambulance Service said: 'We know that our response times, particularly those in rural areas, have not been good enough, but we have been making improvements as shown in our turnaround plan. We will be directing a significant proportion of the additional resources to rural areas.'

'We agreed with staff that we needed to put more ambulances on in Cromer. This is something that we have wanted to do for a number of months and we look forward to working with staff on how best to deploy those ambulance hours going forward. In addition, we have already recruited over 60 paramedics, although some of these have not started with the trust yet.'

'There are some early signs of improvements such as better response times and reduced sickness. However, the trust is not complacent and recognises that turning the organisation round will take time and is focused on delivering ongoing and sustained improvements.'

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