The North West has the largest shortfall of paramedics in England, according to figures released by the NHS due to a freedom of information request from the Labour Party. This latest shortage adds to the lack of doctors, nurses and most importantly funding that besets our crisis ridden NHS.

New information released shows that in 2016-17 there were 873 paramedic vacancies across ambulance trusts in England. The North West was affected worse than any other area, with 204 unfilled posts.

The North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) NHS Trust is currently recruiting trained paramedics from overseas and relying on ambulance staff working overtime to plug the gaps. A spokesperson from the trust said that paramedic recruitment is, “currently an issue nationally as there aren’t enough trained paramedics available to fill all of the vacancies”.

Failure to meet 999 call targets

Failure to ensure adequate staffing levels is contributing to ambulances failing to arrive within the eight minute maximum response time. The Department of Health requires 75% of the most serious sort of 999 calls – category RED 1 – to receive an ambulance in under eight minutes. The latest figures show nationally only 67.3 % arrive within this time. However, despite the news of shortages in the North West, the NWAS is closer to the mark at 74.8 %.

It is not only the patients who are suffering from these shortfalls. Paramedics are also paying the price. A study carried out by Unison in 2015 on paramedics in Greater Manchester (GM) reported that the profession was at breaking point due to stress. Staff shortages, long hours and the mental demands were highlighted in a report that showed 90% of the paramedics surveyed were suffering from stress, causing large numbers to leave the NWAS.

Kevin Lucas, North West Regional manager of UNISON, said of the current shortage:

“Working in the ambulance service is a hard job and it’s getting harder. The job is stressful enough without the extra stress of having insufficient time and resources to meet patient needs. The increasing pressures on the service are taking their toll and it is getting harder for ambulance trusts to recruit and retain staff.”

The shortage of paramedics is also costing the NHS a fortune in fees paid to private ambulance services to attend 999 calls. The amount has increased threefold in four years, from £68.7 million in 2015-16 compared to £22.1 million in 2011-12. An amount the NHS can scarcely afford due to the governments continuing austerity driven underfunding of the service.

The role of paramedic recently becoming a registered profession has played a part in the shortages due to the higher education qualifications required, rather than in house training. A spokesperson from the NWAS said they are:

“Now working hard to fill these vacancies in a number of ways including providing development opportunities for our internal workforce and running a national and international recruitment campaign which together has so far reduced the vacancy gap from 14.2% to just over 9% which we predict will be reduced further to around 7% by March 2017…

“As well as recruiting over 50 Paramedics from Poland and Finland with more to come in this year and providing 126 of our Emergency Medical Technicians with the opportunity to undertake higher education to become Paramedics, we are also working with local universities to increase the rate of Paramedics qualifying.”

Shortage of health professionals throughout the NHS

The shortage of paramedics is just one more in along list of shortages for the NHS. An investigation conducted by the BBC revealed that on 1 December 2015, in England Wales and Northern Ireland, the NHS had more than 23,443 nursing vacancies – equal to 9% of the total personnel. The investigation also stated that the number of doctors vacancies increased by roughly 60 % between 2013-15 (from 2,907 to 4,669).

Despite continued government assurances that the NHS is sufficiently funded, which have been vigorously disputed, the NHS continues to stagger from crisis to crisis. But what the UK government deems sufficient does not agree with our international peers. The UK spent only 9.8 % of its GDP on health care in 2015, which was less than the USA (19.9 %) Germany (11.0 %) and France (10.8 %). And the number of hospital beds in the UK, at 2.7 beds per 1000 people in 2014, is also deficient when compared to our European neighbours Germany (8.2 beds) and France (6.2 beds).

Lucas thinks the paramedic service needs more funds and better conditions to reduce the shortages, saying:

“An increase in staffing levels will require investment in the service and in staff terms and conditions. It needs to be made a more attractive service to work in and to stay in. The onus is on the Government to invest properly in NHS services and to treat staff and patients more fairly.”

Shadow Health Minister Justin Madders agrees with Lucas’s views on the shortage, saying:

“High stress and low morale manifest themselves in poor retention levels and gaps in the service which mean some of the most urgent 999 calls don’t get responded to in time.

“These figures shouldn’t come as a surprise to the Government who have presided over a deterioration in the NHS for a number of years now.”

Devo Manc shortfall

The shortage of funding in the NHS is likely to get worse in the Greater Manchester region when the devolved health and social care services of the Devo Manc deal swing into effect. The GM strategic health and social care partnership recently revealed a predicted an £897 million deficit for the NHS and a £176 million social care deficit for services within GM.

Planned efficiency savings are predicted to reduce the GM NHS deficit, but the social care deficit is proving difficult to reduce and could have a serious impact on NHS services due to increased demand.

Conrad Bower

Campaign groups fighting cuts, closures and privatisation of the NHS across Greater Manchester:

Save Our NHS Manchester

Keep Our NHS public Greater Manchester

Featured image via Wikipedia Commons

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  • Conrad Bower

    Reporting interests include social justice, the environment, and human rights. A staunch advocate for the scientific method and rational debate for understanding the world - he believes only greater public understanding and engagement with the problems affecting society, can produce the progressive change we need. Co-founder of The Meteor.

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  1. North West Ambulance service is historically known for staff bullying and punitive management.
    Sadly, hardworking, motivated ,skilled, experienced and caring paramedic’s are often subjected to disciplinary hearings , which then result in options of; downgrading to EMT 1, dismissal or leaving and are duty bound to refer themselves to the HCPC. and wait on average 2 plus years for their case to be heard. A case of guilty until proven innocent, or by the time your case is heard you have left the Ambulance services years ago. What a waste of tax payers money and a paramedic.
    The HCPC (the paramedic’s professional body) hears the case and hands out the sanction and it would appear to be a subjective sanction rather than based on any type of severity of the incident and patient outcome. Coupled with often poor initial investigation and selective evidence submission another paramedic “bites the dust” and service users experience longer waiting times.
    A paramedic who assaulted his wife in front of their children was give the same sanction as another paramedic who failed to travel with the patient in the back of the ambulance but achieved finally getting the patient to hospital and subsequently receiving treatment and establishing a long term care package for the patient who previously self harmed to try and get help and been failed by the Mental Health Trust.
    Watch tv programmes on ambulance services and you will see common examples of practices of paramedics not travelling in the back of the ambulances, hand overs given by EMT’s. etc
    My sister recently suffering a serious fall ,was bleeding and unconscious had to wait 3 plus hours before a private ambulance arrived. The control staff, her family members and ambulance staff, I am sure all felt helpless, frustrated, distressed and demoralised as a result of no ambulances being available.
    NWAS is not fit for purpose ,we only have to read about the major failings of senior management the night of the Manchester Arena for evidence of this.
    Personally, I would rather have or have a family member treated by a paramedic who works in the best interest in the here and now for a patient, whilst within their professional boundaries and achieving the best outcome rather than not have an ambulance at all or one not arriving for hours due to no staff available.
    Staff shortages prior to Covid were critical and staff were demoralised, exhausted, stressed and undervalued then.

  2. Good report Conrad. This shortage is another example of the Tory plan to reduce numbers being trained so forcing Hospital Trusts to turn to private providers, which further drain the NHS of funds. There is only one way to stop this drain and it is to change the Government and revert back to a genuine, people centred, well funded service.

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