New East of England ambulances being obtained for 'too tall' staff

By Matt Precey & Nikki Fox
BBC Look East

  • Published
The modified Fiat Ducato ambulance which some staff have been unable to fir into properly
Image caption,
Dozens of staff have been assessed as not being able to drive the modified Fiat Ducato ambulances

An ambulance trust is looking to buy alternative vehicles for staff who cannot fit into its new £54m fleet because of their body size.

The East of England Ambulance Service (EEAST) is negotiating to use Fords for crews who have problems driving modified Fiats.

The likely cost of the new vehicles has not been disclosed.

Chief executive Tom Abell said he hoped they would start being delivered by the end of the year.

EEAST was one of the "early adopters" of the adapted Fiat Ducato in 2019, as the NHS sought to standardise its fleet to a national specification.

But many staff reported problems fitting inside the cab, with 160 coming forward with complaints such as back pain and ankles scraping on the dashboard.

Ninety four members of staff have been identified as not being able to drive the Fiats.

'Move back to the Merc'

Image source, EEAST
Image caption,
Chief executive Tom Abell told staff Ford vehicles should be delivered before the end of the year

Addressing staff questions on YouTube, Mr Abell said there was "some truth" in rumours new Ford ambulances were being procured.

He said: "We're hoping that they will provide the space and the configuration in order for people who currently can't drive Fiats may be able to drive a Ford".

At a briefing session this month, chief operating officer Marcus Bailey was asked by a staff member: "Given how awful the Fiat has proved to be, can we please move back to the Merc?"

This was a reference to the existing Mercedes model which had been the mainstay of the EEAST fleet prior to the arrival of the Fiats.

He replied: "The Fiat is the national specification."

Lower cost

One paramedic, who asked to be anonymous, said the Fiat ambulance was chosen over the "much loved" Mercedes because of cost and because it required a lower category driving licence.

They said: "Many average height staff have trouble with being too tall to see out of the windscreen, even at 5ft 10in. It greatly reduces my forward road visibility."

Another Trust source told the BBC the problem with the Fiats had "caused a shortage of ambulances for some crews... which has an impact on available ambulances on the road".

EEAST has had to retain 49 of its ageing Mercedes ambulances for affected staff, but more need to be procured, which is why the Ford vehicle is now being lined up.

Image source, Ford
Image caption,
The trust hopes to start operating some Ford vehicles by the end of the year

A Fiat spokeswoman said its vehicles had European type approval as well as Euro NCAP - a rigorous set of safety standards.

She added they could not be sold unless the standards were adhered to and that the Ducato fully complied with all legislation.

An EEAST spokesperson said: "We are negotiating with Ford around procuring a number of their new design vehicles, but the process has been delayed due to global shortages of materials.

"We hope that these vehicles will be suitable for our colleagues who are unable to drive the Fiat ambulances and may be a suitable replacement for the remaining Mercedes fleet once they come to the end of their lives."

A spokesperson for NHS England in the East said the new Fiats offered "improved patient experience, with innovations including an electronic trolley bed lift which makes transfers safer for patients and crews".

They added: "We are supporting the Trust as they continue to listen to the concerns shared by some of their staff, to understand if any modifications may be possible relating to driver comfort."

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