Late finishes among ‘top priorities’ for ambulance trust amid concerns from union and campaigners

One of the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust's new ambulances, based on the Mercedes-Benz

One of the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust's new ambulances, based on the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 519 CDI model from Orwell Truck & Van. - Credit: Archant

The region's ambulance trust is taking steps to resolve emergency crews' complaints over the number of late finishes, a senior figure said.

Matt Broad, locality director for Norfolk, Suffolk, and Cambridgeshire, said the East of England Ambulance Service Trust recognised it has a problem with late finishes, but claimed more has been done to tackle the problem than in any other ambulance trust.

But Unison is growing impatient with what it sees as a lack of progress with the issue, and campaigners are calling for a full review to fix the 'broken system' by which crews are sent to calls.

Its comments came ahead of the trust's annual meeting today at Sawbridgeworth, Hertfordshire.

Late finishes occur when frontline staff are called out to incidents which means they work longer than their shift.

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Fraer Stevenson, Unison branch secretary for the trust, said: 'Providing emergency responses for 12 hours is physically and emotionally very demanding.

'It is right that at the end of their 12-hour shift staff can go home to rest.

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'Shifts can last up to 15 hours or more because staff are required to answer calls right up until the last second of their shift, regardless of where they are in the region.'

She suggested crews close to finishing their shift should only be sent to Red 1 calls (immediately life-threatening), but not Red 2 calls (serious but not the most life-threatening).

Crews at the start or in the middle of their shift could then be prioritised for Red 2 calls, she said.

But Mr Broad said: 'We can't accept that level of restriction from a patient perspective.

'But we are going to move towards a system like that.'

The trust has agreed with Unison not to send crews close to finishing their shift to Green calls (less urgent), and crews can take patients with their consent to the ambulance station to switch over, or switch over at the scene, if it doesn't compromise patient safety.

'We are going to take incremental steps to change staff's conditions,' Mr Broad said.

'That's the safe way to do it. No other trust in the country has looked at this in as much detail.

'Another factor in reducing late finishes is educating the public about when they need to dial 999.'

He admitted another consequence of a late finish meant the trust could find itself short-staffed the next day as workers are required to take 11 hours break in between shifts.

Frontline staff travelled to London on July 20 to raise their concerns with MPs and hand over a petition calling for departing trust chief executive Anthony Marsh to stay in post.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb, who was among the east of England MPs the staff met, said: 'We need a full review of the way that ambulance working patterns are organised to protect workers from inappropriate long working hours and make sure staff are treated fairly.

'I am determined that their voice must be heard.'

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