East Anglia: Ambulance service criticised over level of frontline vacancies
- Credit: Archant
AMBULANCE chiefs have been criticised for leaving hundreds of frontline posts empty – while failing to meet response targets and being repeatedly criticised for “letting patients down”.
In a move branded “irrational” by a health minister, figures from a Freedom of Information request show the East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST) left up to 10% of its frontline jobs vacant and at the same spending millions of pounds on private ambulances and staff overtime.
In 2011, 207 frontline posts were vacant – 9.7% of front-line jobs – and last month more than 10% remained unfilled.
The figures undermine recent boasts from ambulance bosses about recruiting 350 new frontline jobs – because 239 of them will actually be to fill existing vacancies.
Health minister and north Norfolk MP Norman Lamb, said: “For a significant period of last year they had a recruitment freeze, which I find quite extraordinary.
“We know over the same period they had massive use of private ambulances at an enormous cost.
“As far as I can see it is irrational. They knew they had a growing crisis last year. Why did they leave these places vacant? Why did they allow this to carry on for so long?”
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Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey said patients needed to be assured that the move to recruit 350 frontline staff did not involve “double counting”.
She called for the recruitment process to be open and transparent.
The ambulance service refused to comment on why more than 200 vacancies had been left unfilled. It did, however, confirm that 44 of 200 frontline jobs announced in January were new posts.
At the same time as leaving the vacancies empty, the trust has spent more than £20m on overtime and private ambulances in a year, while needing to save £50m in five years.
The service spent more than £12m in 2012 on staff overtime and it was revealed last month that in the last financial year £8,860,626 was spent on private ambulances.
The pressure on frontline staff working longer hours to make up for shortages has also been put down to high staff sickness levels by unions.