VOLUNTEER first-aiders and privateers are routinely being called in to plug gaps left by a dangerous national shortage of paramedics, it was revealed yesterday.
A string of freedom of information requests showed staff shortages at ambulance services across England were at critical levels — in some cases as high as one vacancy for every four workers.
Paramedics are struggling to meet response targets as they grapple with the extra burden created by 1,171 unfilled posts.
Labour shadow health secretary Andy Burnham urged the Tories to “get a grip” by boosting funding for training places for new paramedics.
“This unacceptable state of affairs is in part down to the government’s decision to cut training places for paramedics,” he said.
In London vacancies stand at around 360, compared to 1,890 paramedics in post.
And South East Coast ambulance service revealed it was plugging its 112 vacancies using routine overtime, “voluntary ambulance services and private ambulance providers,” and managers with medical training.
GMB national officer Rehana Azam said retention was as important as recruitment.
“People are not leaving the service because they are retiring — they’re leaving because the demands are that high that the pressure’s too much,” she said.
Ambulance staff were working 15 to 16-hour shifts “under some of the most unprecedented pressures that they’ve seen.”
She welcomed a commitment by the government and NHS bosses at recent pay talks to probe the reasons for the mass exodus from the service.