Ambulance service cut 'due to lack of funds'

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The Independent Online
AMBULANCE COVER in many parts of London fell by about one-third last month after regional administrators refused extra funds to 'bail out' the overspent service, according to documents obtained by Nupe, the health workers' union.

They show that emergency ambulances stood idle and unstaffed for between 20 per cent and 40 per cent of shifts during two recent weeks, and that the number of unmanned shifts had doubled since May. The figures are contained in an analysis of London Ambulance Service staffing levels prepared for Tony Mee, acting operations director for accident and emergency.

The shortages were revealed only four months after the service denied that computer problems were to blame for delays of up to four hours in ambulance crews reaching patients, citing 'human error' as the cause. All 170 ambulance service control staff were sent on refresher courses on the use of the new pounds 1.5m emergency call computer system.

Nupe attributes the latest crisis partly to the failure of the South West Thames regional health authority, which fixes the LAS budget, to provide extra funds to help a service that is currently struggling with a pounds 2.5m deficit. A letter dated 13 April from Duncan Nichol, the NHS chief executive, to Chris Spry, the health region's general manager, refers to a meeting they held in February. Mr Spry gave an undertaking to Mr Nichol he would 'avoid bailing out the London Ambulance Service', according to the letter.

The LAS said the shortages revealed in the letter to Mr Mee arose because insufficient numbers of staff were volunteering for overtime. Alan Kennedy, director of LAS support services, said: 'We have already begun discussions with staff to rectify the situation. With their co-operation, we will be introducing new shift patterns in October which will ensure that resources are allocated more efficiently.'