'How was I going to pay my bills?': Ambulance staff given £95 a week in Covid sick pay

Ambulance staff

Private ambulance staff claim are not receiving full pay when off sick with Covid (stock image) - Credit: Archant

Frontline ambulance workers have described feeling fraught with worry over paying bills and supporting their families after receiving just £95 a week while isolating with Covid.

Suffolk staff employed by private firm Ezec told this newspaper colleagues had to resort to a GoFundMe page to raise money for an extremely sick worker who was off for six weeks with coronavirus. 

Ezec employees are contracted by the NHS to transport patients around Suffolk, including those discharged from hospitals to care homes. 

Private ambulances and other emergency vehicles

Ezec staff transport patients to and from hospitals in private ambulances (pictured) - Credit: Archant

Many have caught Covid, but despite delivering NHS services, which entitles them to full pay for Covid-related absences, concerned workers have contacted Unison claiming they are only receiving statutory sick pay of £95 a week. 

Union chiefs say Ezec is now locked in an "impasse" with Suffolk's NHS clinical commissioning groups over who pays the cash, which they claim is costing workers hundreds of pounds per week. 

They are calling on the organisations to resolve the issue and pay workers money they have missed out on. 

Ezec chiefs said any staff member taking time off sick is entitled to statutory pay, which is the £95 a week, but did not comment on any negotiation with the NHS, while the CCGs are yet to respond.

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Struggle to pay bills

One Suffolk worker, who asked to remain anonymous, described their Covid self-isolation period as a “very worrying time”. 

“Every day, it was so hard not having a clue how I was going to pay my bills at the end of the month,” they said. 

“And there’s always the fear of having to isolate again if we come into contact with a positive patient. You can’t live on £95 a week.” 

The employee said they felt lucky to be in the union as they were able to apply for a Unison payment of £350 to help cover costs, while unrepresented colleagues “really struggled”. 

File photo dated 24/11/2014 of NHS health workers on the official picket line outside the Basingstok

Private ambulance staff claim they are losing out on statutory sick pay - Credit: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

One colleague got extremely ill with the virus and was off for six weeks: “A GoFundMe page was set up to raise funds for him so he and his family could cover their bills, as we knew the sick pay wouldn’t cover costs," they said. 

Clinically vulnerable staff and carers also told Unison they feel forced to take time off unpaid because the firm is not furloughing them. 

All employees considered 'clinically extremely vulnerable' are furloughed to enable shielding, Ezec bosses said in response. 

Unison chiefs claimed workers' families and patients risk being harmed by the row over sick payments if the company and NHS commissioners fail to settle who pays.

Eastern regional organiser Sam Older said: “If we’re going to beat Covid, we still need proper infection control methods in place.  

“That means making sure staff aren’t left out of pocket when they’re self-isolating to stop the spread."

Sam Older, eastern regional director at Unison 

Sam Older, eastern regional director at Unison - Credit: Unison Eastern

Andy Wickenden, Ezec's managing director, said workers' dedication through the pandemic has "never been in question", adding that the firm has supported them throughout.

He said the company ensures employees are considered key workers, adding that it agreed additional payments with the CCGs for staff last spring in anticipation of them delivering 999 services.

Mr Wickenden did not shed light on why these payments have not been made this time around.

Enough time to clean? 

Some staff also raised fears over infection control in vehicles, claiming they are not given enough time between jobs to properly clean them, even when they have transported Covid patients. 

One worker, who wanted to stay anonymous, said they took a Covid patient to hospital before picking up a sick baby.

"I queried with a controller where I can clean my vehicle," the employee added. "I was told to just give it a quick wipe."

Ipswich Hospital Picture: GREGG BROWN

Private ambulance workers transport people from hospitals to care homes Picture: GREGG BROWN - Credit: Archant

Mr Wickenden said Ezec takes its infection control procedures "very seriously", with vehicles cleaned between jobs, after Covid patients, and deep-cleaned every six weeks.

The cleaning process in Suffolk was audited last week and "all was in order", he added.

"We believe that our staff have ample time to ensure the vehicles are properly cleaned," bosses said in a statement.

"No driver has raised a concern about this with us - but we would, of course, be happy to discuss it. 

"Had any colleague raised concerns, the local management team would have taken instant action to address them."