Ambulance shake-up prompts union alarm

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Fears have been raised over the effectiveness of the ambulance service covering Hemel Hempstead after operational changes were proposed as part of a bid to save £50 million over the next five years.

In a letter sent on Friday the East of England Ambulance Services NHS Trust has been criticised by staff union Unison.

The letter to the trust’s chief executive Hayden Newton raises concerns over a change in staff rotas and a proposal to reduce the number of double staffed ambulances available in favour of rapid response vehicles.

Rapid response vehicles allow a single paramedic to get to the scene of an incident quickly but cannot transport a patient to hospital.

Unison branch secretary Gary Applin said: “Resources are stretched to near breaking point already. 

“Our members report that they are being sent further and further away from their base station to respond to incidents and this means that vulnerable patients are waiting for longer to receive care. 

“A paramedic in a rapid response vehicle may reach a patient but, as they work alone, they cannot lift or move that person nor do they have a vehicle that can transport him or her to hospital.”

But the trust is adamant that changes will not affect response times or patient safety and that no staff are being made redundant.

A spokesman said that the service has carried out a complete review of its rotas and that the introduction of clinical support desks in the control has saved 900 unnecessary ambulance journeys a week by directing patients who don’t need an ambulance to ‘more appropriate treatment’.

Mr Newton said: “We face the challenge of saving £50 million over five years as our part of cost savings but we are finding a way forward while protecting staff and patients with more efficient and intelligent use of resources.

“With 900 calls a week no longer being sent an ambulance unnecessarily, the most sophisticated review ever undertaken of the service demonstrates that, by matching resources to demand while more effectively ringfencing crews to local areas, so those areas are actually better covered than at present when crews are routinely sent elsewhere, we can find a way forward while maintaining patient care, building on improved response times and keeping frontline staff at nearly double the number five years ago.

“Vehicle make up may be different to reflect patient demand more efficiently when only about half of the patients we attend on scene need to be taken to hospital.”