Thursday, 28 August 2014

Crisis in the London Ambulance Service

Bravo to the Spectator for covering the crisis in the London Ambulance Service which has paramedics leaving in droves.

This article reinforces what I’ve heard from paramedics on the frontline in the LAS. And here are a few more points they’ve made…

Paramedics used to be dispatched in pairs – so whatever stressful and traumatic cases they faced, they had a ‘buddy’ to share the responsibility with, who they could have a meaningful debrief with over a cup of tea at the end of a shift. That’s gone now due to cost-cutting. Often paramedics will be dispatched with technicians or support workers, who can’t share the responsibility for decision-making, and who often change shift by shift. This is a major loss of support for paramedics which makes the job tougher, scarier and more tempting to leave.

A side-effect of shrinking paramedic staff is greater reliance on private ambulance companies to fill the gaps. This costs the LAS more money and raises questions about the quality of private ambulances. Can we be confident of the same standard of care? Is a technician on a private ambulance as well-trained and experienced as an NHS technician? (Thankfully, 'paramedic' is a protected title, so paramedics on private ambulances should be as qualified as those on NHS ambulances).

As Mary Wakefield reports, a major problem is abuse of the service. Too many people call 999 unnecessarily. There needs to be a vast new public relations campaign to re-educate the public on this issue so that they don’t run ragged a service which is there for all of us in times of true crisis. Paramedics are overworked; they regularly work long shifts without breaks to eat. This isn’t fair or sustainable and it’s dangerous.

The LAS management and politicians urgently need to listen to paramedics and work quickly to improve working conditions in order to halt this exodus of precious staff.