Ambulance boss speaks out over concerns

AMBULANCE bosses have insisted the 999 service to the public in Suffolk has not suffered – despite a shortage of paramedics on duty because of an intensive training programme.

By Danielle Nuttall

AMBULANCE bosses have insisted the 999 service to the public in Suffolk has not suffered - despite a shortage of paramedics on duty because of an intensive training programme.

Dr Chris Carney, chief executive of the East Anglian Ambulance NHS Trust, said despite severe pressure on the service over recent months, performance had actually improved on last year.

He was speaking after the East Anglian Daily Times received a series of allegations from concerned paramedics claiming the service was at crisis point, with a lack of crew members during some evening and weekend shifts.

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In an interview with the EADT, Dr Carney explained the crew shortages were due to a crucial training scheme that had seen various teams of paramedics taken off duty for a five-day period during the past 12 months.

The programme trains paramedics to administer thrombolyse - a life-saving injection given to heart attack patients - on arrival at a call rather than when the patient reaches hospital.

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Dr Carney also blamed recent pressure on a 10% rise in 999 calls, which represents a further 5,000 calls this year compared to last year and an extra 10 to 15 a day.

"We are extremely concerned and are trying to get the current situation resolved as quickly as possible," said Dr Carney.

"Staff have worked extremely hard this year. They have improved category A responses to life-threatening calls. Despite the pressures, they have managed fantastically. Service to the public has not suffered.

"We are concerned about the pressure on staff because they are not getting breaks as often as they should do. They're working flat out.

"We have lost a lot of hours due to this training because it's so important. We want to stick it out and try to get the training done. We have thrombolysed over 130 patients - over 60 of those were in Suffolk.

"We are taking the time out to do this as every time we do thrombolyse a patient they are having a drug 30 minutes before they would normally get it in hospital. That increases life expectancy with those patients by one year, decreases their chance of dying from coronary and reduces their risk of development of heart failure later.

"It's really important for clinical reasons to do this, particularly in a rural area. If you fall ill in Sudbury for example, you will not get thrombolysed within an hour unless it is given at the scene."

Last week paramedics told the EADT how the service was over-stretched, resulting in crews pleading to be stood down for a break following back-to-back jobs.

Mr Carney said: "All our teams go through a week's training and when we do that, that does affect our cover at weekends. We are in the last three weeks now of a 12-month programme.

"Staff are feeling the pressure of that at the moment which is probably why they feel disgruntled and we are sympathetic with them.

"We can be reassuring to the public in that a lot of work is going on to support our staff. We will be out of the thick of the woods in three weeks or so."

Regular management and staff meetings are being held weekly to assess the situation, and Dr Carney said if the pressure grew significantly, they might have to rethink the last three weeks of the training.

Dr Carney also admitted the service faced the possibility of losing one of its three performance stars next week but said this had nothing to do with its current problems and was entirely due to changes in the way performance of ambulance trusts was measured.

Kevin Risley, Unison staff side secretary at the eastern branch of the ambulance service, said: "The union are taking this situation very seriously and we have made this our number one priority at the moment.

"We feel that we have got an incredible dedicated and profession staff still offering an excellent service to the public but to do that it is not unusual for them to come in and do a 12-hour shift doing back to back jobs with little chance of a break.

"We are already in discussions with managers to look at ways we can improve the situation."

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