Paramedics have issued a severe health warning for their own 999 service after it was put on a life support system from Eastern Europe.
Overworked ambulance crews across Lancashire say a decision to draft in medics from Poland is an inevitable consequence of the “intolerable” stress which is forcing frontline staff to either quit or go off sick.
Concerned paramedics have told the Evening Post they are “at breaking point” and facing “constant stress and aggro” trying to respond to an increasing number of emergency calls with fewer trained staff.
And a union official insisted: “Managers need to sit down and listen to the staff more. Our crews are going out there and doing the best job they can under an immense amount of pressure – and it really isn’t appreciated.”
Staff shortages have become so acute across the region that the North West Ambulance Service has been recruiting Polish paramedics to fill gaps in Greater Manchester and the West Coast of Cumbria.
Crews feel Lancashire could be next to get foreign help as numbers dwindle to near-dangerous levels.
The ambulance service is struggling because of a lack of staff and a lack of investment over several years. And we are the ones on the frontline who are getting it in the neck.
One paramedic, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals, revealed: “Morale is terrible and most of the staff I know would leave if they could find another job outside the service.
“I’ve been asked to speak on behalf of a number of colleagues who all say they are at breaking point - they have simply had enough.
“We wouldn’t be speaking out in public if we weren’t desperate. Staff are getting burned out trying to cope.
“We are struggling to get breaks during a 12-hour shift which regularly stretches to 13 or 14 hours.
“We are constantly getting aggro from the public because the service is letting them down.
“And we are constantly under pressure from managers. An increasing number of staff are going off sick with stress and because they feel they are being bullied by bosses.
“The ambulance service is struggling because of a lack of staff and a lack of investment over several years. And we are the ones on the frontline who are getting it in the neck.”
Among claims made by crews are:
• Three out of four ambulances regularly don’t have fully trained paramedics on board
• There are times, especially at weekend, when there has been just one ambulance to cover the whole of Preston, with both Walmer Bridge and Broughton stations unmanned
• Lesser qualified ambulance staff (EMT1) who are only permitted to give four drugs - aspirin, paracetemol, ibruprofen and entonox (gas and air) - are regularly used on the front line, some without any support because of the shortage of paramedics
• The impact on A&E at Preston has been “horrendous” since Chorley closed, with crews sometimes waiting three hours or more to hand over a patient, meaning they can be off the road for most of their shift while calls stack up.
• Staff are refusing to volunteer for overtime, especially at weekend, because they have “just had enough.”
Neil Cosgrove, of the union Unite, said: “I’d go along with 99 per cent of what the crews have told you. Staff morale is absolutely rock bottom.
“I’ve been in the NHS for 35 years, first as a nurse and later as a paramedic, and I’ve never know morale so low.
“Staff are chucking in their cards and looking for other jobs outside the service. The pressure has become unbearable.
“Across NWAS we are now desperately short of paramedics. No disrespect to EMU1s, who are doing a brilliant job, but they are limited what they can do.
“Staff are leaving and the service is struggling to recruit sufficient replacement. They either need to be fully qualified paramedics who can go straight out on the road, or they have to be trained and that takes three years.
“That is why NWAS is having to look at places like Poland to recruit qualified paramedics.
“The service is reliant on staff working overtime. And that’s why so many ambulances are off the road.”
Ged Blezard, NWAS director of operations, said: “It is disappointing that some staff feel they have to air their concerns via the media, as we do have a number of channels available for staff to raise issues and concerns.
“The welfare of our staff is something we will always take very seriously and we are aware that staff, at times, can become stressed and we offer support both from the Trust directly and indirectly from our occupational health services.
“The Trust has a zero tolerance of bullying and harassment and any allegations raised are taken very seriously and thoroughly investigated.”
“We are constantly reviewing our working environment and practices to ensure we provide a safe and healthy working environment for all staff. The Trust’s sickness levels are the lowest they have been for a significant time and paramedic staff turnover has halved from last year.
“We have progressive employment policies in place, which are designed to assist the creation of a good work-life balance and, in turn, help support staff who suffer from stress-related illness, be it work or non-work related.
“There will always be occasions where due to short notice absences a vehicle cannot be covered but the benefit of being a large organisation is that we are able to move other vehicles around the county dependent upon activity.
“We are also fully aware of the operational challenges we face in the current NHS climate, some of which are out of our control.
“Over the past 18 months we have invested significantly in clinical staff and vehicles and we have over 558 new staff within the paramedic emergency service; 184 of these are paramedics, 79 of which were Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT) that have been appointed following internal progression.
“Specifically in Lancashire many managers are registered paramedics that do regularly attend to emergency calls and by the end of November there will be 17 additional new paramedics and four new EMTs starting work to address the ever increasing demand on our service.”