“We are an ambulance service, not a car service” - paramedic.

Ambulance bosses have admitted not one of a new fleet of 15 ambulances was operating to full capacity on its launch day...

Ambulance bosses have admitted not one of a new fleet of 15 ambulances was operating to full capacity on its launch day yesterday. - Credit: Evening News © 2009

Overworked paramedics have called for more staff to be able to man ambulances instead of rapid response vehicles (RRVs).

The East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST) has introduced 15 extra ambulances but it was revealed earlier this week that many are sitting in the garages as they are reliant on paramedics working overtime.

However, with paramedics saying that 12-hour shifts often stretch into 14 hours, some are asking for further emphasis on staffing ambulances over RRVs.

One Norfolk paramedic, who wanted to remain anonymous, said that the recent increase in ambulances was 'a big step in the right direction', but that rotas needed to ensure the focus was on staffing these and not the RRVs.

They said: 'The sceptical side of myself and others is that it was just a PR exercise last week.

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'There was a lot of negativity that challenged the trust and they came out very positive.

'But if it is not thought through, if they are not prepared to make it long term, it is quite meaningless.

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'Hopefully that is not the case; hopefully they will get around to sort the rotas.'

They added: 'It is really positive but from March 4, across Norfolk there will be a reduction in hours from what we have at the moment, and more put in cars.

'They are only changing the rotas to reduce the hours in ambulances.'

A group of paramedics are currently running a campaign calling for the Department of Health to change its A19 target, ensuring that RRVs do not count in the 95pc target for arriving at the most critically-ill or injured patients within 19 minutes.

They say these targets 'hide' delays in getting to patients as they are unable to transport the most seriously ill or injured patients to hospital

The paramedic said that there was too much commitment to the RRVs and said it was embarrassing for staff to sit and wait, not knowing how long it would be until ambulance back-up arrives.

'We are an ambulance service, not a car service,' they said.

The paramedics' campaign to change the national A19 target has the support of Norwich South MP Simon Wright and North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb.

Mr Wright said: 'I'm very concerned by the increasing number of reports I have been hearing informally, from paramedics and from patients, of when a wrong vehicle appeared to be sent out on a call.

'Particularly if on occasion where a vehicle has been sent out as much to meet a target as to ensure the person on the other end is getting the service required.'

Mr Lamb said he had raised this issue with Earl Howe, who is responsible for this area in the Department for Health.

A spokesman for the trust said that the overtime expense was factored in to the budget, but that the recruitment drive of 114 emergency care assistants and 25 paramedics was helping to address this.

They added that the extra ambulances were there to complement and boost the rota redesign.

They also said interim chief executive Andrew Morgan had been out during the week listening to staff and patients.

Mr Morgan said: 'I'm really pleased that staff feel that the extra ambulances are a step in the right direction. We knew it might be difficult to crew the vehicles with staff on overtime as I appreciate they're already working hard. But rather than wait we wanted to get the vehicles onto their stations ready for operation so we can get them staffed as fully and quickly as possible.

'We are still hopeful we can fill more shifts over the coming weeks and are looking at every opportunity to do so.'

The campaign website is www.changeA19.org

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