999 service hit by staffing problems

NEARLY two years of ambulance staff work was lost in Essex due to disciplinary action over a 12-month period, the EADT can reveal.

Roddy Ashworth

NEARLY two years of ambulance staff work was lost in Essex due to disciplinary action over a 12-month period, the EADT can reveal.

But yesterday a spokeswoman for the East of England Ambulance Trust said that one of the main reasons emergency workers had spent so much time suspended - a total of 103 weeks - was the high clinical standards required of them.

However, one employee was suspended for 15 weeks after being accused of bringing the trust into disrepute. The worker then resigned.

Another was dismissed after a six week suspension for allegedly falsifying documents.

And one is still suspended in an ongoing case for allegedly misusing trust equipment.

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Two Essex ambulance workers were suspended for 20 weeks each due to claims of a lack of patient care. They then resigned.

Another case of alleged lack of patient care is ongoing.

However, six of the 13 employees who were suspended between January 1 2008 and January 1 2009 had disciplinary action taken against them because they failed elements of their paramedic training.

Two were dismissed, two resigned and two more cases are ongoing.

“There is a lot of training and the student paramedics are monitored throughout. If they fail part of it they are usually re-entered for the section and we make every effort to try and insure they get through their initial course satisfactorarily,'' said the trust spokeswoman.

“However, after a while, if there is still no improvement, they can be suspended and this can lead to dismissal.”

Training can take up to three years, including a 13-week initial course, a four-week driving course and then an extended period as a student practitioner.

The trust spokeswoman added that in Essex there were 1,003 ambulance employees, of whom about 90% were classed as “operational” workers - paramedics, ambulance technicians or control staff.

“We have to be very rigorous with our staff and we have very high standards. Because of the nature of the job, sometimes an investigation into a clinical practice issue can take a long time,” the spokeswoman said.

“The care of our patients is paramount - we are holding peoples' lives in our hands. We cannot ignore any doubt over clinical judgement.

“The main reason employees are suspended is because there is a suspicion there might be a very small risk to the public.

“Unlike some other areas of employment, perhaps, we have to be 100% sure our staff are fully capable and prepared at all times.”