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Suffolk/Essex: Low morale and staff sickness adding to East of England Ambulance Service’s woes

PUBLISHED: 06:00 29 November 2012

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FRESH detail has emerged on the challenges facing the region’s struggling ambulance service - with poor staff morale and sickness high on the list.

A board meeting of East of England Ambulance Service (EEAST) heard staffing issues are being compounded by hospital handover delays, which are seeing paramedics regularly doing two or three hours of overtime a day.

Hayden Newton, its chief executive, who announced his retirement last month, said the delays were “unacceptable”.

Figures released by the trust show on average there was a delay of 18m 21s in October from when an ambulance arrives at a hospital to when a patient was handed over.

Mr Newton said: “It’s a huge challenge which has been sustained since April and we have not even started the winter rush yet. This is not acceptable - if hospital trusts focus on resolving the problem it tends to be sorted out.”

Yesterday’s board meeting heard the delays - the highest so far this year and set to rise further during the winter - were hitting response times, staff morale and sickness levels.

Christina Youell, EEAST’s interim director of human resources, said: “The hospital delays are adding to the problem by adding time onto the end of people’s shifts, that adds to people’s susceptibility to sickness.”

Statistics show long-term staff absence due to sickness has been consistently above the trust’s 3.34% target - hitting 4.96% in October, the highest this year.

Neil Storey, interim director of emergency operations at EEAST, said: “There’s a view that these delays are having a significant impact on staff morale.”

Mr Storey’s comments came after Suffolk MP and junior health minister Dan Poulter told parliament the trust was not doing enough to listen to frontline staff.

He said: “In a staff survey, only 4% of front-line staff in the East of England Ambulance Service said they were being properly listened to, which is completely unacceptable.”

There was further criticism for the trust before yesterday’s meeting, which was held at its offices at Broomfield Hospital, near Chelmsford.

Around a dozen members from the GMB Union staged a demonstration over moves by the ambulance service to use more rapid response vehicles (RRVs).

Tony Hughes, GMB regional organiser, said: “If all the changes go through there will be less vehicles on the road to convey people to hospital. They’re moving to RRVs, which don’t have the ability to take patients to hospital.”

But a spokesman for EEAST said around 50% of patients do not go to hospital and that having RRVs in rural areas instead of ambulances would improve efficiency.

Earlier this week the East Anglian Daily Times revealed the service is consistently missing key response time targets, sparking Unison concerns the trust was close to “meltdown”.

But the trust said it was recruiting more than 145 staff - including paramedics and emergency care assistants - and changing rotas to improve performance.

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