PRIVATE ambulances without paramedics are being used to answer emergency calls across the region because Yorkshire Ambulance Service has been hit by a staffing crisis and rising demand from the public.
YAS has now admitted it never intended to use the St John Ambulance vehicles to attend emergencies when it set up a contract with the charity a year ago but now does so when those crews are close to serious incidents, even though they are crewed by technicians and care assistants rather than more highly skilled paramedics.
They have been called in attend cardiac arrest incidents, help at road crashes, assist stroke victims and even provide treatment to those who have been shot or stabbed.
On some occasions they have also been needed to perform ‘helimed’ transfers, for patients who have been carried in the air ambulance.
It is understood the service needs to recruit 300 ambulance crew members but a national shortage of paramedics means there is no option but to train recruits.
Between September and June, they responded to more than 11,000 calls across the region, with demand for their services rising sharply since the contract with St John Ambulance was introduced.
Now the union which represents ambulance staff is calling on YAS to scale back its use of private sector crews as it works to redeploy staff from within its own organisation and to train new workers.
Unison branch secretary for YAS, Kev Fairfax, said they were opposed to using private sector staff within the service.
But he conceded the service had little option but to call in outside resources because staffing levels were so low.
“As a union, we don’t want the private sector involved. We have had quite a few people leaving the service and they are working to address this.
“We have said they need to be showing that they are using St John’s less and less as they train new staff. We say that people should be working for YAS full time and we should not be paying out extra money to bring St John’s
in,” he said.
Between September last year and June, St John Ambulance was needed to answer 6,229 calls in West Yorkshire; 2,687 in South Yorkshire; 2080 in East Yorkshire and 460 in North Yorkshire.
Ian Walton, Associate Director of Operations at Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust, said: “As a professional ambulance service we respond to the overwhelming majority of our emergency patients using our own staff and
“However, with our A&E service continuing to operate in a difficult and challenging environment, our own resources can be complemented by St John Ambulance.
“These staff respond to less serious ‘Green’ 999 calls on our behalf, but on occasion when they are the nearest resource to an emergency incident, they will respond as an emergency resource.
“Safeguards and operating standards are in place to ensure that the use of this service maintains our own expectations of the level of service provided.
“We have a long-standing working relationship with St John Ambulance and value the support they provide to us.”
The service is expected to meet targets for getting to emergency incidents, but in recent years has struggled to meet them.
Early last year the service launched a collaboration with Humberside Fire and Rescue Service in East Yorkshire, using firefighters to act as ‘first responders’ in rural parts of the county where conventional ambulance crews have struggled to reach patients quickly enough to meet targets.
The service’s problems in handling its workload has now been compounded by a shortage of trained paramedics and technicians, leaving YAS to recruit and train fresh staff.
Since September St John Ambulance have been sent to nine cardiac arrest incidents and another 50 where patients had chest pains.
They have turned up to help 21 stroke victims and been used as the first response in two incidents where people have been stabbed or shot.
They have also been used in several ‘helimed’ transfers taking patients from the air ambulance.
St John staff have also been sent to more than 550 ‘end of life’ calls.