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Exclusive: Paramedics unable to work as recruitment outstrips ambulance numbers

Published on: 23 Nov 2023

Up to 50 ambulance crews are unable to go out on the road in London every day because the service does not have enough vehicles for its increasing workforce, HSJ can reveal.

London Ambulance Service Trust has said the position is “resolving” with more new vehicles due to be delivered before Christmas.

Sources told HSJ that some LAS staff are currently spending most of their shift waiting for a vehicle to become free, and therefore only getting out on the road for a couple of hours before clocking off. Others are being told to return to base before the end of their shift to ensure ambulances are available for those coming on duty, HSJ was told.

The issue mainly affects staff on late shifts and has got markedly worse since September, the source added.

One cause appears to be an increase in the number of teams rostered to work during a shift. This rise has not been matched by an increase in ambulances available.

Like many ambulance trusts, LAS has been recruiting more staff to try to improve response times, which have spiralled nationally in the past two years.

An LAS spokesperson told HSJ the trust had recruited 900 frontline staff in the last year.

They added: “At the same time [we] began an extensive programme to modernise our fleet, including orders for new ambulances, hybrid response cars, all-electric cars and electric motorcycles.

“We have already taken delivery of many new vehicles, with 40 more due before Christmas. However, supply chain issues and manufacturing delays (compounded in part by the collapse of one of our manufacturers) has delayed the rollout of some of these vehicles.

“In recent weeks, this has meant that some of our workforce have been delayed in getting out on the road at the start of their shift. However, it is important to note that – despite those manufacturing delays – the number of staff hours on the road in emergency vehicles and caring for patients has increased by 10 per cent compared to last winter.

“We are working hard to reduce any delays for our staff, who we recognise are keen to get out on the road, but are proud that our bolstered workforce means we have more medics caring for patients than before.”

One source said: “Crews don’t mind sitting around for half an hour and having a cup of tea. But longer than that and they get frustrated – especially if they know there are unanswered calls.”