Ambulance worker 'embarrassed' at ordering taxis for patients

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An ambulance worker has told ITV News she is "embarrassed" at having to order taxis for patients because the service's vehicles are tied up queueing outside bed-blocked hospitals.

The worker, who wished to stay anonymous, said delays are "not a staffing issue" but down to ambulances which are "just sat waiting at the hospitals".

Waits at some hospitals have been as high as 11 hours in recent weeks.

Data obtained by ITV News under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act also show the number of critical cases where South Western Ambulance Service sent crews without a fully-qualified paramedic have almost doubled in the past year.

A second FOI request showed the number of ambulance workers off sick with stress has quadrupled in the past five years.

Ambulance worker Credit: AMBWORKER_13012022_ITV

The figures show in October 2017, just 29 ambulance staff were off sick due to stress. In October 2021, that had nearly quadrupled to 104.

"Ambulance staff, the crews, they do 12-hour shifts," one worker told ITV News West Country.

"And their 12-hour shifts are running over. Stress levels are really really high because they're not spending the time that they should be with their families. They're picking up overtime to support patients, their own crews and to support the hospitals," they added.

The ambulance service should send paramedics to 'category one' incidents - such as a cardiac arrest.

But in October last year, there were 33 instances where crews without a qualified paramedic were sent to those type of incidents. In October 2017, that happened 13 times.

The worker blamed NHS England and GP services throughout the pandemic for the pressure on the ambulance service.

"It all goes back to people ringing the GP," they said.

"GPs won't see them face-to-face. Issues escalate and it means they've got to get an ambulance or they don't know where to turn. They ring 111 or 999 because they can't get anywhere with their GP. They're not being seen."

But a spokesperson for NHS England and Improvement South West disputed this and said the same level of GP appointments - around 3.3 million a month - are happening as before the pandemic.

They said 60% of appointments take place in person.

"In addition to those face-to-face appointments; improvements made during the pandemic mean that people have even greater access to their GP through a variety of routes including online, video and telephone consultations, which many people prefer as it is easier to fit around their lifestyle," they added.

"The whole of the NHS is seeing very high levels of demand at the moment and therefore patients are sometimes unfortunately experiencing longer waits that we would wish."

They said people should consider which service they need and call 111 if they are unsure.

Ambulance service statement A spokesperson for South Western Ambulance said the health and wellbeing of their staff is at "the core" of its values.

They added: "We have a wide range of support available to help staff, including running our own in-house wellbeing service. We also have a 24/7 support telephone line that staff can access at any time. Additionally, more than 125 Peer Support Guardians provide local-level wellbeing support as an early intervention.

"We aim to provide the right support at the right time to help colleagues thrive both inside and outside the work environment."

They told ITV News the ambulance service has been experienced "sustained levels of demand" for months.

"We have made a number of changes to working practices across the Trust, including the redeployment of staff, to free up every available resource so that we can prioritise delivering timely, appropriate and safe patient care," they added.