Fears over ambulance crew changes

Ambulances in this region will be crewed partly by less qualified support workers instead of clinically-trained staff in a bid to save money.The region's ambulance service wants support workers to crew frontline ambulances which are sent to emergencies, working alongside a paramedic or emergency technician.

Ambulances in this region will be crewed partly by less qualified support workers instead of clinically-trained staff in a bid to save money.

The region's ambulance service wants support workers to crew frontline ambulances which are sent to emergencies, working alongside a paramedic or emergency technician.

At the moment ambulances are generally manned by a paramedic and emergency technician, or sometimes two technicians. The plans would reduce staffing bills for the ambulance trust, but would reduce the medical expertise on the ambulance.

Many other ambulance services have already started putting ambulance support workers, also known as emergency care assistants, on ambulances.


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They do not have to have clinical training or experience and are trained to give first aid.

Unison branch secretary Kevin Risley said: 'We have got concerns. We don't think that is the right thing to do. It is dumbing down the clinical skills on the frontline ambulances. You have to wonder whether it is about saving money.'

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He said the union did support the current position, where the assistants are used on support vehicles as a back-up or for non life-threatening emergencies.

The proposed changes could ease the pressure on busy crews by providing extra staff. But the union thinks that there may be difficulties when there is more than one casualty, for example a road accident. It will limit paramedics' ability to consult colleagues and will put more responsibility on them.

Ambulance support workers are usually paid at band three (�14,800 to �17,800), compared with band five (�20,200 to �26,100) for a paramedic or upper band four (around �20,000) for a technician.

A spokesman for the East of England Ambulance Service said: 'Our workforce plan involves moving a large number of technicians up to the level of a fully registered paramedic with the aim of ensuring that we are able to send a paramedic with every ambulance. The role of the emergency care assistant is a properly trained support worker, giving support and assistance to the paramedic clinician.

'The role was developed nationally with trade unions and the clinical training that they receive has been nationally approved leading to a formal qualification. They will also have full emergency driving skills so they will have all the knowledge and skills which complement those of the paramedic to ensure good patient care.

'We will be running a pilot scheme in Hertfordshire from April to ensure that this change works well for staff and for patient care. Patient safety is of paramount importance and this initiative is planned to improve the overall quality of care.'

Norman Lamb, North Norfolk MP and Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said: 'The test is whether staffing arrangements are at risk of damaging patient care. We must see through cost pressures and focus on patient care. I would like to learn more about union concerns.'

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