Paramedics are ‘leaving in droves’ as ambulance callouts almost double | Emergency services

The number of calls for an ambulance in England have almost doubled since 2010, with warnings of record pressures on the NHS that are seeing A&E patients stuck in corridors and many paramedics quitting the job.

Ambulance calls have risen by 10 times more than the number of ambulance workers, according to a new analysis of NHS data. An increase in people seeking emergency treatment, GPs unable to cope with demand and cuts to preventive care are all being blamed for the figures.

The analysis, carried out by the GMB union, found that there were 7.9m calls in 2010-11. By 2021-22, however, the number had risen to 14m, an increase of 77%. Over the same period, the number of ambulance workers has risen by just 7%, heaping more pressure on staff.

While the figures represent all calls for an ambulance, some of which go unanswered and do not lead to a vehicle being sent, they reveal the increasing pressures that have led to claims that patient safety is being put at risk by ambulance waiting times. There has been a significant increase in the number of the most serious safety incidents logged by paramedics in England over the past year.

Ambulance workers will hold a demonstration on Sunday outside the GMB’s annual congress, which begins in Harrogate. There have been repeated warnings that cuts in social care are also having knock-on impacts, with emergency services often picking up the slack and dealing with patients in crisis.

The average response time for serious ambulance calls was 51 minutes in April 2022 compared with 20 minutes a year before. Meanwhile the GMB said more than 1,000 ambulance workers have left since 2018 to seek a better work-life balance, better pay or to take early retirement.

Paul, a paramedic and GMB deputy branch secretary, said he had recently seen a crew waiting almost 10 hours between arriving at hospital and transferring a patient to hospital care. “They arrived at the hospital at 20.31,” he said. “They then cleared from the hospital at 05.48 in the morning. The impact of the lack of resources is affecting the ambulance service.

“We are also seeing people become aggressive to the ambulance crew, because they’ve waited hours upon hours in an ambulance.

“We used to have crew we called ‘lifers’ – you join and you’re there for the rest of your life until you retire. But now we are seeing people do two or three years and then going to better jobs – maybe a GP practice or become a university lecturer. There are no nights, no weekends; you’re in a nice, clean environment.”

It comes after a nurse was filmed warning patients at an overcrowded A&E department that they could wait up to 13 hours to see a doctor.

Rachel Harrison, GMB national officer, said ambulance workers had faced “more than a decade of cuts”. She said: “It’s no wonder they are leaving in droves while the service itself is teetering on the brink of collapse. The explosion in demand is due to savage cuts to essential services since 2010.

“Cuts to preventive and community care result in higher demand on emergency services, including in mental health. This means that patients are entering the system later and with more complex symptoms. Some people also used hospital care less during the pandemic and didn’t get essential treatment, and this has led to significant pent-up demand that is falling on ambulance workers.

“Our members face unbelievable stress and even abuse while they do their best to administer care and save lives. We need urgent investment across the health and care services, otherwise we risk an unprecedented crisis.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said they recognised the pressures staff were under, with ambulance workers at the sharp end. “Response times are affected by various factors, so we’re taking a whole-system approach,” they said.

“The NHS has allocated £150m of additional system funding to address pressure on ambulance services, and we are tackling the Covid backlog by setting up surgical hubs and community diagnostic centres – over 90 of which are already open and have delivered over a million additional checks.

“NHS staff received a 3% pay rise last year, increasing nurses’ pay by about £1,000 on average despite a public sector pay freeze, and we are giving NHS workers another pay rise this year.”

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