Comment

20.02.17

Time to value ambulance staff

Source: NHE Jan/Feb 17

Alan Lofthouse, Unison's national ambulance officer, discusses the need for policymakers to address the rising rate of ambulance staff leaving the NHS and show them they really are valued as part of the health team.

No one wants to be in a position to have to call out an ambulance. But when they do, it’s because they have a real emergency on their hands. Perhaps someone near and dear is having a medical emergency, or they are helping a stranger in need. Either way, they expect a fast, professional response. 

They will certainly get a professional response, but paramedics are struggling in some areas to get to calls as quickly as they would want or indeed need to. 

This might be because some are with ambulances queuing outside busy A&E departments, waiting to deliver patients into the care of overstretched emergency staff, or because there aren’t enough ambulance staff to cope with demand. Many trusts are struggling to fill vacancies and don’t have a full complement of crews.

Part of this has been down to the wages of ambulance staff. Just recently, paramedics received good news about a pay grading issue that had dragged on for two years. But for many, this regrading came too late. They had already voted with their feet and left their jobs. With starting pay still as low as £22,000 a year it’s not hard to see why they have. 

It’s not just about the money, either. Ambulance staff are reporting increased levels of stress. There is frustration because of time spent waiting in casualty departments to discharge patients. 

Many working hours are wasted each shift because A&E staff are so overstretched. They also can’t move patients on until beds have become free elsewhere on wards. This creates a log-jam of patients, with ambulance staff often left kicking their heels sometimes for hours on end – all the time knowing they are needed elsewhere to deal with the next emergency case. 

And then there are the late finishes when 12-hour days overrun because emergency calls come in near the end of the shift. This can put severe pressure on staff after a busy working day, when they should be at home relaxing and preparing for the next shift. 

A rise in violent attacks, including aggressive behaviour from patients or their companions, make even the most committed paramedic question why they do the job. As more women enter the profession, there are more instances of sexual assault being reported. No one should have to put up with assault of any sort because of the job they do. 

Training a paramedic can take up to two years, and with all the investment, time and money that entails, it is hard to understand why some trusts don’t try to hold onto their staff. The strains of the job are burning people out and are an important reason why people leave. More could be done to support frontline staff. It will, of course, come at a cost, but anything has to be cheaper and more efficient than constantly having to recruit new people.

Government plans to raise the age of retirement also don’t help, as the strains of the job get harder the older ambulance staff get. Watching retirement ages disappear over the horizon is a sure-fire way of encouraging staff to look for less onerous and stressful employment. 

We could also be seeing the available pool of people wanting to work in the ambulance service start to dry up. Recruitment problems are so bad in some parts of the country that ambulance services have resorted to recruiting from overseas. But these short-term solutions don’t address the serious problems that have led to the need to recruit from abroad in the first place. 

Ambulance staff are no different to anyone else who works in the NHS. They genuinely love their job and are committed to helping those in need. But pressures around pay, stress, violence and the frustrations of delayed discharge are taking their toll. Over the last few years the NHS has lost thousands of professional, dedicated ambulance staff. It is down to both ambulance trusts and the government to keep those remaining staff in post. Now would be a good time to address the rising rate of those leaving and show them they really are valued as part of our fantastic health team.

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opinion@nationalhealthexecutive.com

Comments

Iain   21/02/2017 at 19:42

Again the sentence saying people only call an ambulance in an emergency tells you about a lack of understanding. The majority of calls aren't emergencies and require no treatment or even conveyence. If ambulance personel are to be respected let them/us do the job we are paid to do (acute accident and emergency)instead of continuing to make the ambulance services everyone else's dogsbody .

Richard   22/02/2017 at 03:58

Great sounding board, but I truely believe that the NHS is now, very tactfully and secretly being crushed and set to fail, by the Governments lack of funding and support. Staff (Paramedics) will Leave and the Government will then be able to say to the generally nieve public, that the only way to improve healthcare and emergency healthcare is to pay the Private sector to 'Help out', thus then, this will equate to Privatisation, by the side or back door. Clever way of doing it, but the Public will be lead to believe that there way no other option, when in fact, if the Government had truely wanted to save a Public NHS, they would have saved it by investing and fully funding it in the first place. The analogy is, if you really want to keep your favourite old car, you pay for repairs and upgrades to keep it going, you don't just sell it off, so it's faults are someone else's problem!!

Anthony   23/02/2017 at 21:35

ALL of the above statements I have heard time and time again.None of it is new, its been going on for years and guess what NOTHING HAS BEEN DONE ! I have been a Paramedic for 25 years and it just gets worse. Pay minus £3000 in real terms over past 6 years, conditions VICTORIAN, equipment out of the ark, sickness due to stress through the roof, volume of work doubled or more. The elastic band WILL go twang !!!!!!! Give us what we need before it is too late

Robert   24/02/2017 at 18:10

I work as freelance and the government is doing everything to make sure you go back home and join a trust, every trust has now had wages capped so the people coming in to help out, will not be coming as the money is not worth it, most of the time you have to travel upto five hours to get to work, then pay for hotel to stay, as you cannot drive back after a fourteen hour shift. Tax is also changing so that you do not get relief for traveling and accommodation. It's not all about the money, I believe we should be one team, but it is apparent some full time staff just don't like us. But I suppose you get this everywhere. I left a trust due to the problems that have been discussed by the others before me. And in the time I have been working freelance, it has got a whole lot worse, with sickness at an all time high, and vehicles breaking down with no equipment on them. But you ask any paramedic and they will tell you they love the job they do. But unfortunately no one cares or listens.

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