An NHS ambulance service has been subjected to strong accusations after it discontinued a system involving specialist paramedics.
A leaked memo from the South East Coast ambulance service (Secamb) indicated that the organisation will assign its most qualified medics to minor ailments.
Critics have suggested that this will effectively endanger patients lives.
Previously, specialist paramedics responded to the most urgent 999 calls, such as strokes, heart attacks and car crashes.
But as the service has stated that it is impossible to cope with the escalating demand for care, with ambulances often taking too long to reach patients.
Secamb provides NHS ambulance services in Surrey, Sussex, Kent and north-east Hampshire, and the organisation employs 725 general paramedics and 90 paramedic practitioners.
A leaked memo written by Geraint Davies, the service’s acting chief executive, admitted the move “will cause some anxiety and uncertainty”.
Unions have expressed their disappointment regarding the decision, and the general consensus of opinion is that it will lead to a reduced standard of care.
Nigel Sweet, a Unison steward for Secamb, commented on the issue, outlining the concerns of the union.
“There is always a possibility that in the case of a very serious incident such as a road traffic collision or cardiac arrest, where CCPs are crucial, they won’t be available. Instead they will be responding to a standard callout. That could threaten that patient in that situation. That’s the concern.”
But the aforementioned Davies defended the change to policy, stating that it would simply enable Secamb to better deliver its services.
“It is essential that we utilise all of our resources to the maximum benefit of all of our patients. It has been agreed to remove the critical care paramedic regional cover plan and place CCPs back into the trust system status plan [general workforce]. This will mean that CCPs will now be available to respond to all categories of call.”
Secamb has already indicated that a deluge of 999 calls is proving challenging for the organisation.
And the service must also deal with 138 vacancies for paramedics, an increase from 105 last year.
Indeed, Jon Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, spoke on this matter recently.
“In recent days I’ve been warning of the extent of the national paramedic shortage. And now we learn of the drastic action this trust is taking in order to cope. The redirection of critical care paramedics will raise fears for patients in need of the most urgent, emergency attention and the trust must urgently explain its rationale for this decision.”
Responding, a Department of Health spokesperson outlined the efforts of the government and authorities in this area.
“No patient should have to wait longer than necessary for an ambulance and NHS England is working closely with the services to improve response times. We’ve recruited 2,200 more paramedics since 2010 to reduce pressure on services and have increased the number of training places this year by 60%.”