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56% of staff leave ‘relentless’ jobs within a year

Published on: 18 Dec 2023

A trust has found that more than half its new call handlers quit within a year of starting, and a third within six months — with ‘health’ being given as the main reason.

A report for South East Coast Ambulance Service Foundation Trust into into problems keeping its emergency operations control room staff — known as emergency medical advisors — has shown the uphill battle ambulance providers face in increasing permanent staffing.

NHS England made increasing 999 call handling staff to 2,500 a national target in August last year. It has succeeded, with numbers now exceeding that, but several trusts have reported major difficuties retaining the staff.

The analysis report for SECAmb, by the consultancy Moorhouse, shows over the two years from January 2021 to February 2023, a third of emergency medical advisors resigned within six months of starting work; and 56 per cent within a year. The report was released to HSJ under the Freedom of Information Act.

It said more than 40 staff were dismissed within six months – most likely because they did not successfully complete their probation which includes training on NHS Pathways, the computer programme which helps to determine what response callers get.

Among leavers in all roles in control rooms – which includes dispatchers and clinicians – 77 per cent who left within six months gave health as a reason. The report says this “suggests lack of resilience among new joiners and insufficient support available to them”.

Those who left later, between one and two years after joining, tended to give different reasons, such as lack of progression and professional development.

A survey of 57 staff in control rooms found 63 per cent were not confident individuals were promoted and rewarded on merit, and only two fifths felt their efforts at work were recognised, or they were involved in decision making which impacted on their role.

Other ambulance trusts are thought to face similar problems retaining 999 call handlers. Director of people and organisational development at Yorkshire Ambulance Service Trust Mandy Wilcock, who has been leading work on recruitment and retention for the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives, said turnover among the group was “eye watering” compared with other parts of the service.

“They are quite relentless roles, they are challenging and in terms of the amount of money we pay, some people will make a choice to work elsewhere where there is less stress,” she said. “These are responsible jobs and they can be quite pressurised.”

She added trusts were often having to compete with customer contact centres in the commercial sector which sometimes offered better headline wages. Recruits also need to be given a full picture of what the roles will entail, and have a good working environment, she said.

A SECAmb spokesman said the trust had 234 whole time equivalent EMAs in post this year – 36 more than last year. Some of those leaving the roles had moved internally, he said. He added: “It’s recognised nationally that the role of EMA, while being an entry level position, is one of the most challenging roles in the whole ambulance service.

“We are extremely proud of all those who perform this vital role in SECAmb and recognise the need to do more to attract and retain EMAs…

“We are committed to improving the recruitment and retention of all of our people, including those who work in our EOCs. In the 12 months since the report was commissioned, we have made a number of changes for our EOC colleagues, including a move to a brand-new EOC in Gillingham which provides both vastly improved facilities and working environment.”