Fit to work? Concern over contract paramedics sleeping in tents between shifts
Campsite all that ambulance crew can afford on £35-a-day allowance, says whistleblower
Charlie Cooper is Health Correspondent for The Independent, i, and The Independent on Sunday, writing on the NHS, medical advances, and international health. Since joining the papers as an editorial assistant, he has been nominated for young journalist of the year at both the Press Awards and the British Journalism Awards.
Wednesday 07 August 2013
Contract ambulance staff in the east of England have been staying in tents between shifts because their employee allowance doesn't cover basic costs.
A whistleblower who spoke to the BBC said that staff from ERS Medical, a private company that provides ambulance workers for the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust, were staying at a campsite near Huntingdon in Cambridgeshire because it was all they could afford on their £35-a-day expenses, which are meant to cover food and accommodation when staff work away from home.
Local Liberal Democrat MP Dr Julian Huppert said the situation was "alarming" and should prompt both the trust and the private contractor to review their procedures.
"Paramedics have a very tough job and the thought they might not be getting enough sleep to do their job well is worrying," he told The Independent. "The agency that employs them should be providing them with enough subsistence to stay somewhere appropriate, but this also highlights the fact that the ambulance service needs to have more staff and not rely on agencies."
ERS Medical told the BBC that the £35 allowance was "above the industry norm". Eyewitnesses at the Willows Campsite in Brampton reported seeing ambulance staff returning to their tents in the evening.
"A small number of our team decided to stay at the local campsite," ERS told the BBC. "We…specifically questioned our crews as to the suitability and have received unequivocal responses that say yes, it's a great site with appropriate facilities and that they enjoy good sleep and comfort."
However, Dr Dan Poulter, health minister and Conservative MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, said that the trust should look "very seriously" at the situation.
A spokesperson for the NHS East of England Ambulance Trust said: "The quality of our service delivery is of upmost importance so before working in partnership with us, private ambulance organisations must undergo a thorough trust-accredited process and meet stringent criteria."
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