Lack of paramedics hampers launch of new Norfolk ambulances

Ambulance bosses have admitted not one of a new fleet of 15 ambulances was operating to full capacity on its launch day...

Ambulance bosses have admitted not one of a new fleet of 15 ambulances was operating to full capacity on its launch day yesterday. - Credit: Evening News © 2009

A lack of paramedics has meant none of the 15 extra ambulances which started work yesterday was operating at full capacity.

The introduction of the ambulances by the East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST) was heralded last week as a step in the right direction by the under-fire service.

The spare vehicles, which have been in storage around the region, were re-kitted and cleaned last week.

But a lack of paramedics willing to work overtime and staff the vehicles has meant that the 15 ambulances are not in full operation.

Seven of the vehicles began work in Norfolk and north Suffolk yesterday, but ambulance bosses admitted they had not managed to get any of them fully up and running.

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A spokesman for the ambulance service said: 'The extra ambulances have all been delivered to their stations but we are finding it a real challenge at the moment to fill all the shifts because we are reliant on staff overtime until our new recruits are on board over the coming few weeks.

'However, we are very keen to see the vehicles all operating at capacity so are looking at all possible opportunities to make this happen as quickly as possible.'

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She said 114 emergency care assistants and 25 paramedics were due to start work at the service before the end of March.

She added the vehicles were not ones which had previously been cut and dismissed fears that the additional vehicles were merely a temporary measure.

In an email sent to staff last week seen by the Eastern Daily Press, the trust's interim chief executive, Andrew Morgan, described the lack of double-staffed ambulances as 'unacceptable' and apologised the trust had got into such a position.

He said: 'On my visits around the patch I have had many discussions with you about the resources we have available to deal with emergency calls and I am clear that we do not currently have enough double staffed ambulances out on the road. We are tackling the situation in many ways by recruiting more staff, trying to better match staff availability to demand, giving more power to local managers to deliver the right service for their area, working with hospitals to reduce turnaround times and addressing productivity, efficiency and sickness issues. All of this work will continue and must deliver results.'

The trust has around 270 intensive care ambulances, and campaigners for better response times questioned how much of a difference 15 vehicles would make.

Gary Applin, branch secretary for Unison, said he 'cautiously welcomed' the introduction of the ambulances, but added ambulance numbers should rise with the increasing number of calls the service was getting in the east of England.

Five of the ambulances will be in Norfolk and Denise Burke, North Norfolk Labour Party chairman, who led the Act on Ambulances petition, said the announcement was a 'U-turn'.

The extra ambulance in Cromer means the town now has the same level of cover as before last year's cuts. She said: 'It still does not give us the extra ambulances the public wanted to see before the cuts. When we met both the previous and current chief executives of the trust, they were adamant they could not fund extra resources without making cuts elsewhere. So how is this announcement being funded given government cuts, and for how long?

'The additional resource on the roads this week is also dependent on how many paramedics are prepared to work overtime. We know the staff are already overstretched and trying to cope with new rota redesigns.'

The East of England Ambulance Service's announcement on Wednesday that double-staffed vehicles would be deployed to key towns followed pressure from the EDP's Ambulance Watch campaign.

Towns they will cover include Cromer, Dereham, Diss, Downham Market, Potter Heigham, Beccles and Mildenhall.

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