‘Prospects not good’ claim as East of England Ambulance Service chief takes the reins

The East of England Ambulance Service Trust has come under fire.

The East of England Ambulance Service Trust has come under fire. - Credit: Archant

As the new chief executive takes the helm of the region’s troubled ambulance service, a watchdog spokesman has warned that “prospects are not good”.

Robert Morton is the new chief executive of the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust.

Robert Morton is the new chief executive of the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust. - Credit: Archant

Robert Morton, a paramedic and community first responder who has worked in the ambulance service for nearly 25 years, began his role as chief executive of the East of England Ambulance Service Trust last week.

Before taking up the position, he said it was “not going to be easy”, with the emergency service struggling to cope with demand in recent times.

The ambulance trust has been criticised for failing to meet response times to life-threatening 999 calls, and in January this year it was discovered that thousands of emergency calls were downgraded, leaving people with potentially life-threatening conditions waiting for longer to be treated.

Recruitment drives for student paramedics have taken place in a bid to bolster resources in order to cope with the increasing demand on the service.

Last week, Mr Morton was reported as saying staff have been pushed “to the point of fatigue” by targets and the only way to reduce pressure is to recruit more people.

He said: “Staff continue to leave and it is a real concern to lose that much experience.

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“The situation we have is that people are fed up because all they hear about are targets. We need to increase our capacity to take pressure off them.”

Patrick Newman, who is the spokesman for the East and North Herts Independent Health Monitoring Group and has been scrutinising the ambulance service, said: “This is not a new problem and it has been recognised ever since Hayden Newton left back in 2012 after making many redundancies.

“Anthony Marsh was interim chief and made little progress, substituting trainees for fully qualified paramedics, although he achieved a modest improvement in response times.

“There has been a general run down of the service due to not keeping up with demand and restrictions on funding.

“The prospects are not good as they are still to find £50 million reductions by 2017. The four-year one per cent pay cap will only exacerbate the difficulties.

“A stressed and tired paramedic is not what I would like turning up to my emergency.”

Responding, Darren Meads, the ambulance trust’s senior locality manager for East and North Herts, said: “Our services are financed to provide the best care possible for patients in North and East Herts, and we work very closely with the area’s clinical commissioning group and other NHS organisations to all help one another achieve this goal.

“In partnership with East and North Hertfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group, we have expanded the number of emergency ambulances and are looking for 60 new prospect paramedics to join our work force.

“We recognise the value and experience our existing staff have and have begun an ambitious programme to up skill existing clinicians to emergency medical technician standard. This programme will be finished by Christmas. Qualified paramedics have also been recruited, but given the massive task to plan for the workforce of years to come, we had to take action to recruit people who needed to become qualified.

“In North and East Herts, we have had one of the lowest levels of leavers in the past year.

“We are arranging to see the East and North Herts group to help address some of their concerns and also get a sense of how they can work with the ambulance trust to help us improve the patient experience and improve working conditions for staff.”