South East ambulance call-out failures blamed on staff shortages

Ambulance The ambulance service spent £7.3 on private ambulances because of staff shortages, Unison said

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Failure of the South East Coast Ambulance Service (Secamb) to meet emergency call-out targets is being blamed on staff shortages.

The ambulance service failed to respond to 75% of the most serious calls within eight minutes in five months between June and February.

A Unison spokeswoman said there were more than 70 paramedic vacancies leading to the delays.

Secamb, which covers Kent, Sussex and Surrey, said it was recruiting staff.

Over the last 12-month period the Secamb answered 75.2% of the most serious time-critical calls within target.

'Vicious circle'

Mary Laxton, the Unison regional organisers for Secamb, said: "Clearly there is a huge number of paramedic vacancies running at 70 plus, currently.

"They haven't recruited enough staff and because they haven't got the staff in-house they spent £7.3 million on private ambulances to back up the service.

"If you haven't got enough staff that leads to extra shifts covering extra rotas, including night-time rotas, ending at two or three o'clock in the morning.

"That results in higher levels of sickness, so it's a vicious circle."

Secamb's spending on private contractors increased from £1.9m last year to £7.3m in 2012-2013.

A trust spokesman said it was recruiting for a wide variety of positions including frontline clinical roles.

He said: "We recognise that there is a need to recruit to particular clinical grades in Kent more than other areas and we are working hard to recruit to these roles.

Crews 'run ragged'

"However, when it comes to training and recruiting paramedics it should be noted that to become a paramedic individuals must now complete a three-year degree programme."

The trust employs about 3,000 staff, with 85% in direct contact with patients.

A Care Quality Commission (CQC) report in February found that some ambulance staff were "run ragged", did not always have the time to take breaks, and consistently finished their shifts late.

Secamb has until 16 May to respond to the report and outline the actions it will take.

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