Tagged: Paramedics

Atos and Capita accused of poaching paramedics to cut benefits instead of saving lives

An NHS whistleblower has claimed that the A&E crisis is being made worse because highly trained NHS paramedics across the country are being poached by Atos and Capita to do assessments for personal independence payment (PIP), instead of saving lives.

Paramedic shortage
There is a severe shortage of paramedics throughout the UK, but Hampshire – where our whistleblower works – has a particularly acute problem. South Central Ambulance Service (SCAS) had over 250 vacancies for paramedics in November of this year.

Our whistleblower claimed that the situation was being made even worse because experienced paramedics are leaving to take up full time posts with Atos, who carry out PIP assessments in the region.

Paramedics in the NHS usually have to train to degree level, yet salaries range from just £21,478 to £27,901 for the most experienced paramedics. In addition, the job involves a good deal of shift work and unsocial hours.

Atos, on the other hand, offer paramedics who join them as full-time PIP assessors a salary of £32,000 plus private medical insurance, life assurance, income protection insurance and no unsocial hours.

It is hardly surprising if paramedics choose to make the move to Atos, or to Capita who offer a very similar package.

The effects of the paramedic shortage can be seen on a daily basis. Just this week an injured cyclist was left lying on the pavement for more than two hours in central London whilst waiting for paramedics to arrive.

The paramedic shortage is also taking desperately needed cash from the NHS. In Hampshire 16% of paramedic cover is currently provided by much more expensive private companies while health trusts around the UK are having to advertise abroad to try to attract paramedics to the UK.

Paramedics are also vital for reducing pressure on A&E departments by providing effective treatment on the spot. In many cases this reduces the amount of time spent on patients when they arrive at A&E or removes the need for a visit altogether.

Dismissal for speaking out
The SCAS employee who contacted us about the crisis was afraid to speak out publically because staff have received an email this week warning them that telling outsiders about problems in SCAS, especially online, could lead to dismissal. The email threatened:

“Everything you say online is subject to the same disciplinary procedure that covers your conduct in the real world. There have been disciplinary hearings that have resulted in staff being dismissed for breaches to the SCAS Code of Conduct.

“Don’t let this happen to you!

“We value our staff and it is important that when staff and the organisation are feeling the pressure, that we try and provide the appropriate support through internal and external means rather than airing frustrations that may damage public confidence.

“If you have any concerns, queries or want to ask us about this please do contact us. In the meantime for more information go to:

“The SCAS Discipline & Conduct Policy & Procedure”

We contacted SCAS and asked them how many staff have left to work for Atos or Capita in the last six months. A spokesperson told us:

“South Central Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust are unable to advise on the numbers of staff who have left the organisation to join the organisations you have named. Unless staff are leaving to join another NHS Trust, they are not obliged to inform us of the name of their new employer.”

SCAS also denied that the recent email to staff was related to concerns about paramedics leaving to join the private sector.

Cash before lives
Atos and Capita have not even begun the massive task of assessing millions of existing disability living allowance claimants for PIP as part of the Coalition’s effort to reduce benefits spending. When they do, they will need to take on hundreds more assessors. How many of these will be poached from the NHS?

The crisis in paramedic numbers is not new, it has been growing since 2010. There would have been nothing to prevent the DWP stipulating in the PIP contracts for Atos and Capita that they did not recruit paramedics. There would be nothing to stop them doing so now.

The fact that they don’t reinforces the impression that, for the DWP, saving cash is always more important than saving lives.

Source –  Benefits & Work,  20 Dec 2014

http://www.benefitsandwork.co.uk/news/2973-atos-and-capita-accused-of-poaching-paramedics-to-cut-benefits-instead-of-saving-lives

NHS spending on private ambulances has soared in the North East

NHS spending on private ambulances has soared in the North East, new figures have revealed.

The North East Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust’s spending on private ambulance services has more than quadruped between the financial years 2011/12 and 2013/14, figures from Freedom of Information Requests show.

In 2011/12 the amount spent was £639,820, but this rose a staggering 353% to £2,898,275 in 2013/14.

However, other ambulance services maintained lowest levels of spending across the period while one even reduced its reliance on private vehicles.

Over the same period, average ambulance response times – the period between a logged call and the vehicle’s arrival – increased by 51 seconds in the North East.

A spokesperson for the North East Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust said:

While it’s true that average ambulance response times have increased over the last three years, so too has the volume of calls being dealt with by our contact centre.

“Despite this marked increase in activity, the North East Ambulance Service remains one of the best performing in the country for reaching those patients most in need.

“To put it in perspective, our average response time to an emergency in 2011 was 5 minutes 11 seconds. In 2014, it is six minutes. Both of which are well within the national target of eight minutes.

“Organisations such as Red Cross and St John have been used to a greater extent over the last year, again as a consequence of demand.

“There is also a national shortage of paramedics due to the longer three-year-period it now takes to complete the required degree. NEAS hopes to have an extra 140 paramedics by 2016.”

Official NHS figures show that across the country even ambulances for the most serious cases are taking over a minute longer to reach patients than three years ago.

NHS ambulance services across England are now spending close to double the figure on private ambulances when compared to 2012, with parts of the country seeing a 10-fold rise.

Andy Burnham, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary said:

“These figures show just how quickly the NHS is changing under David Cameron. Blue-light ambulance services have traditionally been considered part of the public core of the NHS. It is clear that no part of the NHS is now immune to privatisation.

“When people dial 999, most would expect an NHS ambulance crew to turn up. People have never been asked whether they think blue-light ambulance services should be run by private companies. Before this practice goes any further, there should be a proper public debate about it.

“NHS paramedics have raised concerns over whether private crews have sufficient training, competence and are fully equipped. The Government needs to provide urgent answers to these questions and provide assurances that this practice is not compromising patient safety.”

Source –  Newcastle Journal,  21 Oct 2014

Survey shows 42% of student nurses in the North East are considering working abroad


Nurses’ leaders say a Government attack on pay will cause “brain drain” from the NHS as 42% of student nurses in the region are consider working abroad.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said the ongoing attack on NHS pay is making most student nurses feel undervalued before they have even qualified, and risks forcing newly qualified nurses to look for fairer pay outside the NHS.

A survey of the RCN’s student members has found that the recent decision to deny NHS staff a pay increase of 1% has left the country’s future nurses feeling anxious about their finances.

Peta Clark, operational manager for the RCN Northern Region said:

“The results of the RCN’s survey – which is part of a wider national survey carried out between July and September this year, shows that nursing students are feeling disheartened and unvalued by the current Government’s outrageous and unfair policy on NHS pay.

“NHS Trusts across the region are struggling to recruit and retain nursing staff. And yet, because of the Government’s refusal to pay a cost of living increase for nurses and health care assistants, we now have the very real possibility of seeing many of our current student nurses leaving the country to work abroad, where pay, terms and conditions are superior.

“Forty two percent of the current crop of nursing students across the North East and Cumbria told us that they are actively considering pursuing a career in nursing abroad, because the current state of nursing pay is so woeful.”

Countries such as Canada and Australia are currently actively recruiting nurses from the UK, because they know that the quality and skills that NHS nurses have are second to none.

Figures obtained by the RCN shows that 82% of student nurses polled across the North East and Cumbria are angry about the Government’s decision on nurses pay and 75% said the Government’s decision on pay has made them feel undervalued and unappreciated.

On Monday frontline health workers in the North East will strike in support of their claim for fair pay. Nurses, health care assistants, paramedics, porters and medical records staff across the country will take part in industrial action to show their anger at the Government’s failure to honour a 1% pay rise.

After three years of pay freezes and pay restraint, Chancellor George Osborne had said a 1% pay rise across the board was “affordable” from April this year. However, the Government then controversially reneged on this promise.

While some nurses and health care assistants still get their incremental pay increase, which rewards experience and skills learnt after a length of service, many are not be entitled to the rise. The Government has insisted it cannot afford a general pay increase without putting frontline jobs at risk.

A Department of Health spokesperson said:

“NHS staff are our greatest asset and we know they are working extremely hard. This is why despite tough financial times, we’ve protected the NHS budget and now have 13,500 more clinical staff than in 2010.

“We want to protect these increases and cannot afford incremental pay increases – which disproportionately reward the highest earners – on top of a general pay rise without risking frontline NHS jobs. We remain keen to meet with the unions to discuss how we can work together to make the NHS pay system fairer and more affordable.”

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle –  08 Oct 2014

Health care staff protest outside Newcastle hospital over low pay for NHS employees

Frontline nurses and health care assistants gathered in the region this morning to protest against pay conditions.

Scores of NHS staff joined prominent MP Nick Brown outside Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital to show their anger at the Government’s failure to honour a 1% pay rise this year.

After three years of pay freezes and pay restraint, Chancellor George Osborne had said a 1% pay rise across the board was “affordable” from April this year. However, the Government then controversially reneged on this promise.

While some nurses and health care assistants will still get their incremental pay increase, which rewards experience and skills learnt after a length of service, many will not be entitled to the rise.

The Government has insisted it cannot afford a general pay increase without putting frontline jobs at risk.

Glenn Turp, Royal College of Nursing Northern Region regional director, said: “Nurses are working very hard and the number of people at our protest shows how angry our members are.

“It is baffling that the Chancellor said the Government could afford a 1% pay rise across the board and then that was reneged on. It makes no sense.

“What the NHS cannot afford to do is continue a policy of treating hard working and loyal staff with contempt, at a time when morale is at an all time low and trusts around the country struggle to retain and recruit enough nurses to maintain safe staffing levels.

“We see this as being a year long campaign leading up to the general election.”

Nurses, doctors, physiotherapists, paramedics, hospital cleaners and other NHS staff took part in demonstrations throughout the country.

Newcastle East MP Nick Brown said: “The Government’s continuing public sector pay restraint is not fair and not sustainable. It is particularly unfair on nurses and other low paid workers in the NHS.

“I completely support the Royal College of Nursing, hospital staff look after us in our time of need and we must stand up for them. It is important that the public understands just how shabby the Government is in treating key health service workers.”

Staff nurse Grace Onuoha, 53, of Walker, Newcastle, had just finished a night shift for Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust when she attended the protest.

The mum-of-three said: “It is very disappointing that there is not an across the board pay rise as we are working hard and doing a lot yet receiving nothing in return. It feels like we have been given a slap in the face by the Government.

“Morale is extremely low among staff as we are doing more and getting less. My pay is exactly the same as it was in 2009 despite the rise in the cost of living.”

The TUC, representing 14 health unions, said its research showed that health staff in England were “donating” £1.5bn worth of unpaid overtime every year.

Unions said that by 2015/16 NHS staff would have had their pay capped for six years. Pay was frozen in 2011 and 2012, and limited to 1% last year.

Susan Johnson, 47, of Killingworth, a senior sister in critical care at North Tyneside General Hospital, said: “It is frustrating because we work so hard and my concern is that we will put off future generations from joining the profession as nursing staff struggle with unsociable hours and are not very financially rewarded.”

The Department of Health said it was saddened by the health unions’ reaction to reject the pay offer. A spokesperson said: “NHS staff are our greatest asset.

“That’s why at a time of severe funding restraint we have been clear that they should receive at least 1% additional pay this year and next.

“We cannot afford a general pay rise on top of incremental pay increases of up to 6% without risking frontline jobs and safe staffing levels.

“We are disappointed that the unions rejected our offer to discuss any alternative proposals on pay, within an available budget of nearly £1bn.

“However, our door remains open if they wish to reconsider their position.”

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle,  05 June 2014

North East Paramedics hold crisis talks over Government cuts

Paramedics will today hold crisis talks as the North East Ambulance Service reveals the full extent of Government cuts.

Ambulance staff will meet at a seminar to ask just who cares for the carers, and what can be done to force NHS bosses to better fund them.

The service will warn that Government-ordered 20% budget cuts mean patients are sometimes waiting more than two hours for a vehicle, while rapid response staff are waiting five hours in a patient’s home with the patient waiting for transport.

In a damning list of support failings set to go to NHS chiefs, the service will warn that: staff morale is at an all-time low; assaults on staff have shot up; paramedics are spending hours in A&E waiting for a bed for patients.

Union leaders say the service is having to call in volunteers from St John’s Ambulance to help out even o n some emergency calls.

Just last week it was reported home patients in the North East are being forced to wait up to six hours for an ambulance despite guidelines saying paramedics should arrive within 30 minutes.

One patient had to wait more than three hours after the emergency was categorised as ‘red2’, which is potentially life-threatening and has a target time of eight minutes.

Figures obtained by The Journal from a Freedom of Information request showed that the North East Ambulance Service failed to meet their target response times on 10 separate occasions in a 12-month period.

Staff at the meeting in Durham today will discuss what to do about growing work pressures. They say that late finishes appear now to be nearly every shift, there are late meal breaks, if any at all, and will warn that crews are regularly facing angry families when arriving on a job knowing that the patient had been waiting for a while.

Paramedics will hear from North East Labour MEP candidate Jude Kirton-Darling, who will warn that a Conservative victory in elections this May could see EU working limits scrapped, making the situation worse.

Joel Byers, Unison’s North East Ambulance Service staff secretary, said: “Government cuts have forced ambulance trusts to cut 20% of their budget year on year but stating patient care should not be affected. This is an impossible task as the majority of our budget is for frontline services.

“The Commissioners are reluctant to pay extra money on a long-term basis to enable North East Ambulance Service to recruit more vitally needed staff. However, workloads have increased year on year with no extra resources except for the use of Private Ambulance Companies. The use of Private Ambulance Companies, First Responders and Police Cars is evidence in itself that there is a lack of resource in frontline staff.

“Every department from frontline, support services and HQ staff are undergoing restructures which are potentially putting staff at risk.

“The extra pressure being applied by the cuts is not just having emotional impact on staff but also a physical impact on staff in terms of assaults and injuries at work.

“For example the number of North East Ambulance Staff that have either suffered an injury at work or been assaulted has risen 590 in 2009 to 916 in 2013.

“With the ongoing pressure being placed on staff we expect the number to increase considerably in 2014.”

Last night he was backed by Ms Kirton-Darling, who said: “Ambulance workers in the North East have told me over the last few months they have experienced growing pressure as their working conditions deteriorate.

“Vital rest periods, set out in the European working time directive are there to ensure ambulance staff are able to operate safely and effectively on our behalf.

“Who in their right mind would want an ambulance worker dealing with a matter of life and death after a 12-hour shift without rest?

“The North East Ambulance Service must ensure decent rest periods and limit working time, otherwise I fear the service could face its own emergency soon with the public and workforce potentially put at risk.”

Source – Newcastle Journal  29 Jan 2014