Ambulance service leaves one in 10 front-line posts empty - but spends millions on overtime

East of England Ambulance Service.

East of England Ambulance Service. - Credit: Archant © 2013

AMBULANCE chiefs have been criticised for leaving hundreds of front-line posts empty – while failing to meet response targets and being repeatedly criticised for letting patients down.

Figures show the East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST) left one in 10 roles vacant, such as paramedics and emergency care assistants, yet at the same time spent millions of pounds on private ambulances and staff overtime.

In 2011, 207 front-line posts were vacant – 9.7 per cent of front-line jobs – and last month more than 10 per cent remained unfilled.

The figures from a Freedom of Information request undermine recent boasts from ambulance bosses about recruiting 350 new front-line jobs - because 239 of them will actually be to fill existing vacancies.

Health minister MP Norman Lamb said: “For a significant period of last year they had a recruitment freeze which I find quite extraordinary.

“We know over the same period they had massive use of private ambulances at an enormous cost.

“As far as I can see it is irrational. They knew they had a growing crisis last year. Why did they leave these places vacant? Why did they allow this to carry on for so long?”

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The ambulance service refused to comment on why more than 200 vacancies had been left unfilled. It did, however, confirm that 44 of 200 front-line jobs announced in January were new posts.

At the same time as leaving the vacancies empty, the trust has spent more than £20million on overtime and year £8,860,626 on private ambulances in a year, while needing to save £50million in five years.

The pressure on front-line staff working longer hours to make up for shortages has also been put down to high staff sickness levels by unions. Staff sickness rates at the ambulance service are about 10 per cent.

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