Rate of paramedics leaving ambulance service nearly doubles
More than 1,000 paramedics left the ambulance service between April 2014 and March 2015, compared to just 566 between 2010 and 2011.
The accelerating trend of leavers is reinforced by a survey just released by the GMB, Unison and Unite unions, in which three-quarters of paramedics and other ambulance staff said they were planning to quit the NHS.
The unions say this could trigger an ambulance crisis in the NHS, especially with “dangerous” vacancies in paramedic jobs forcing staff to shoulder more responsibility in the field and in the 999 phone service.
They survey questioned more than 3,200 paramedics, of the more than 20,000 ambulance staff represented by the three unions.
Topping the survey’s findings were warnings that inadequate pay and poor working conditions in the field are to blame for the low morale amongst paramedics and their desire to leave.
But the survey indicated that almost three-quarters of remaining staff are considering leaving the health service, with a whopping 94% claiming their pay does not adequately reflect their responsibilities. Currently, the paramedic starting salary is just short of £22,000 annually, growing to £28,000 after seven years.
And in a perfect storm of 10% vacancy rate and paramedic exodus, employers are having to look abroad for more employees.
“Hardworking ambulance staff and paramedics are voting with their feet and leaving the service. Their pay and conditions don’t reflect the strenuous demands of the job,” Unite’s head of health, Barrie Brown, said.
“The London ambulance service is already in special measures and spending thousands of pounds recruiting paramedics from as far away as Australia and New Zealand.”
Just today, the North East Ambulance Service NHS FT also raised its operational status to ‘severe pressure’, meaning that while it will attempt to deliver a normal service, its response standard to potentially life-threatening calls has deteriorated.
Although many employees get a shift premium for working anti-social hours, respondents said these bonuses did not reflect their skills and responsibilities.
Unison’s head of health, Christina McAnea, said: “Paramedics are doing more than ever, and being asked to deal with a growing range of medical emergencies. But these skills and responsibilities haven’t been recognised by employers or the government.
“Ambulance trusts say they haven’t got the cash, but the offer last January was from Jeremy Hunt and so trade unions will be calling on him to make sure the government keeps their side of the agreement.”
According to the three unions, the government must fund a “much-needed” recruitment and retention bonus, as well as review existing salaries or risk driving staff away.
Its leaders will be outlining this at an oral evidence sessions with the NHS Pay Review Body next week, on 15 December.
McAnea continued: “With the background of NHS cuts and recent threat of industrial action by junior doctors, it’s essential the government doesn’t mislead staff over their promises – or there could be industrial action in the ambulance service.
“The NHS will rely on its ambulance services as A&E units struggle to cope with winter pressures. If the government doesn’t take action, then this crisis could turn into a catastrophe.”