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Suffolk: Dramatic rise in number of emergency care assistants attending 999 calls in place of paramedics

PUBLISHED: 12:20 22 January 2014 | UPDATED: 12:20 22 January 2014

There has been a dramatic rise in the number of Emergency Care Assistants attending 999 emergency calls with the East of England Ambulance Service

There has been a dramatic rise in the number of Emergency Care Assistants attending 999 emergency calls with the East of England Ambulance Service

Medical support staff with as little as six weeks training are responding to thousands of emergency 999 calls instead of qualified paramedics at the East of England Ambulance Service, it can be revealed.

New figures highlight the dramatic rise in the number of emergency calls attended by only Emergency Care Assistants (ECA).

According to the EEAST data, 18,815 emergency calls were attended solely by ECAs last year - a rise on the 767 recorded in 2011.

ECAs are being used as “first responders” and put in charge of ambulances called to a range of potentially life-threatening situations where they have, in cases, been required to resuscitate patients.

ECAs are trained in emergency first aid, deliver a range of clinical care under supervision, use ambulance equipment, are trained in emergency driving and assist with restocking and cleaning the vehicles and equipment after use.

Official guidance states ECAs should provide support to, and be guided by, more qualified clinical staff and that they should be crewed with, and normally work alongside, a paramedic as part of a frontline crew.

Gary Applin, UNISON branch secretary at EEAST, said the union warned ECAs should not be used as a frontline resource as they do not have enough training to deliver a “sufficient range of emergency clinical care”.

He added: “Despite being hard-working and dedicated professionals they often find themselves in situations that risk their own safety and patient care.

“It is particularly risky when the Trust crews an ambulance with two ECAs and it is then sent to be the first vehicle on the scene of an incident or to back up a solo responder.

“Patients often expect them to deliver a level of clinical care that they are unable to do.

“Moreover because they are unable to respond to a patient with deteriorating health, they often can’t transport a patient to hospital without being escorted by a paramedic in another vehicle.

“This means that two vehicles are being deployed to transport a single patient – a crazy way to deploy resources when there are not enough ambulances on the road.”

EEAST employs 445 ECAs who attended a total of 24,232 emergency calls between 2011 and 2013.

Junior health minister Dr Dan Poulter, MP for North Ipswich and Central Suffolk, said it was time for EEAST to “get a grip”.

He added: “The Marsh review, which was published last summer, highlighted some of the catastrophic failures in management at the trust and clearly one of those issues, recently highlighted by high profile cases in Norfolk, is where people, with not necessarily the right skills, have been sent to deliver care in inappropriate situations.

“There are real concerns over some of the decisions made by senior management from 2010 to the publication of the Marsh review.

“We have now got to give the Trust some time to get a grip on these issues and sort them out but they need to do so quickly.

“We need to see the senior management invest in the right numbers of staff on the frontline and the right vehicles to deliver the service patients in Suffolk deserve.”

Dr Poulter said Suffolk MPs will hold a meeting with EEAST in the spring holding them to account to ensure the service is making the necessary progress.

Rob Ashford, EEAST’s director of service delivery, said the Trust is no longer recruiting ECAs - a move which has been welcomed by UNISON.

Mr Ashford added: “We recognise that we need more paramedics which is one of the reasons why we’ve stopped recruiting ECAs and will only be taking on graduate and student paramedics as this will undoubtedly improve the care we give to patients.

“Our current ECAs remain a vital part of the workforce but over the coming months we will be looking to train as many of them as possible as emergency medical technicians and hopefully, thereafter, paramedics. Developing our workforce is the right thing to do for staff and patients.”

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