NWAS: Crews at 'breaking point' and patients' 'lives in danger'

North West Ambulance Service Image copyright Ian Britton

Ambulance crews in the North West of England are at "breaking point" and "lives are in danger" because of staff shortages, whistleblowers have said.

The claims come after the Care Quality Commission (CQC) said safety improvements were required at the North West Ambulance Service (NWAS).

Whistleblowers told the BBC that staff and equipment shortages meant patients were "not getting the care they need".

NWAS said it had been "very open and honest" in response to the CQC report.

A Trust spokeswoman said: "We fully accept the comments made in the report."

NWAS has "worked hard to put right" issues raised by the CQC and whistleblowers, she added.

'Waiting hours'

The two whistleblowers claimed the job had become "a constant battle", with some staff not being given sufficient support when attending patients.

"You've got paramedics and you've got emergency medical technicians (EMTs) who aren't trained to do exactly what a paramedic can do," one of the NWAS staff members told BBC North West Tonight.

"If [EMTs] are sent out, paramedics are promised, but nine times out of 10, there's not enough staff so they just don't arrive.

"EMTs are left with the families screaming at them to do things. They could be waiting hours before paramedics arrive."

EMTs are employed to respond to emergency calls as part of an ambulance service team.

They usually work with a qualified practitioner, such as a paramedic or senior paramedic, to provide emergency care at the scene.

'Blurred vision'

The second whistleblower said staff were also not given enough time to recover from traumatic situations.

"You might go to a bad job which might affect you," he said. "But you aren't allowed to let that affect you because you've got to get to the next job."

His colleague said some staff had had to work for "12 or 13 hours without even a refreshment break", the result of which being that "you're driving around [with] blurred vision with headaches".

Image caption NWAS was praised by inspectors for its "exceptionally caring" staff

He said crews had to supply their own equipment, "makeshift" or "steal from other vehicles that are parked up", adding that some vehicles "don't even open from the outside so if there's an accident, you wouldn't be able to get out".

In its report, the CQC expressed concern about a high level of vacancies among front-line paramedics, the trust's complaints policy, and mental capacity assessments.

However, inspectors praised three areas of "outstanding practice" and the trust's "exceptionally caring" staff.

'Sickening and frightening'

One of the whistleblowers said managers had "run round like headless chickens getting everything organised, ordering new stuff" ahead of the CQC's inspection.

"People request uniforms and can wait months to get one. But as soon as the CQC are going to turn up, everybody gets what they want."

He said the situation had become "sickening, frightening, scary" and the "whole system needs looking at because it isn't working".

The NWAS spokeswoman said the trust had "worked hard to put right the issues raised", including those highlighted by the whistleblowers.

"Due to the increase in activity we have seen, combined with the pressures throughout the whole of the NHS system, we agree that there have unfortunately been delays in back-up ambulances arriving," she said.

She said all staff "should be able to take their meal breaks in a timely fashion", but that depended on daily "call volume and activity".

There had been "no change in operational procedure" during the CQC's visits, she added.

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