The NHS ambulance trust which serves the A & E department of the Conquest Hospital remains in special measures following inspections by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) between July and September this year, meaning that it remains at risk of having its services terminated.

PICTURE: Dave Young

South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SEcamb), which operates throughout Kent, Sussex, Surrey and North East Hampshire has shown  improvements in care, according to the CQC, but it was “too early” to judge if the improvements were sustainable. In particular there were still staff shortages which had an impact on both worker and patient safety. On emergency calls, the trust was above the national average in response times for category 1 and 2, i.e. people with life-threatening injuries. However, some patients classified as category 3 or 4 were at an increased risk as a result of experiencing long delays.

A recently retired local ambulance employee has given HIP some interesting background:

SECamb was set up 21 years ago to carry out ambulance services across the board, i.e. both for A & E call-outs and non-emergency patient transport.  For A & E they have to employ paramedics, who earn up to twice the money of non-qualified ambulance staff, but get worked very hard on long shifts (including at night) without breaks. Older paramedics leave, burnt out. When our informant started, there was a pathway to becoming an A & E medic through working with patient transport. The skills of dealing with patients could be transferred over.  But now you have to go the university route to become a paramedic with SECamb, though it may be that other A&E ambulance services are less picky in this respect.  And there simply aren’t enough of them. It’s a young man’s job, yet they are subject to the rise in national retirement age: there are increasing problems with stress and bad backs.

With the aim of cutting the budget for non-emergency patient transport, the local Clinical Commissioning Group(CCG) split off this part of the service three years ago and privatised it, with poor results. Eventually, after union protests, the CCG backtracked and gave the contract back to a separate NHS Trust, the South Coast Ambulance Service (SCAS), which covers a swathe of the south-east from Oxfordshire to Sussex. So far, so good. But patient transport work is also getting heavier; literally. Patient obesity is a serious problem. When you’re having to lift and carry people who weigh over 20 stone, it’s a big strain on backs and bodies generally.  Anyone over 13 stone now has to be managed with handling equipment requiring four or more handlers. On the other hand a chairlift may not function on a winding staircase in an old house. So again a lot of staff are off with bad backs.

As ever, the NHS has its work cut out.

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