08:20 Wednesday 7th August 2013
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
[P]AUL STAINTON: It has emerged some ambulance crews in this region are sleeping in tents in Huntingdon in order to save cash. The workers are employed by private ambulance companies to cover shifts for the East of England Ambulance Service, and they say the £35 they’re being given for expenses makes it incredibly difficult to find accommodation. .. Denise Burke is from the Labour-led campaign group Act On Ambulances. She’s also Labour’s Parliamentary candidate for North Norfolk, and she’s with us this morning. Morning.
DENISE BURKE: Good morning Paul.
PAUL STAINTON: What’s your reaction to this?
DENISE BURKE: It’s quite unbelievable, and this is a much bigger issue than just some probably unqualified paramedics who work for a private ambulance ..
PAUL STAINTON: Well we don’t know that, do we? We don’t know they’re unqualified.
DENISE BURKE: No. No. But I mean the bigger issue is for East of England Ambulance Trust to even have to be commissioning with six different private ambulance companies to cover shifts is quite appalling. I think as most of your listeners will know East of England Ambulance Trust has been in some trouble for some time. And certainly with our Act On Ambulances campaign not only have we been trying to ensure that we get much much better response times, equally we’ve been asking the question why private ambulance companies are being used.
PAUL STAINTON: Can we really blame the East of England Ambulance Service over this though? because surely it’s to do with the working conditions at this private firm, isn’t it?
DENISE BURKE: Well exactly. Obviously the bigger issue is why are they commissioning private ambulance firms and spending such vast amounts of money when it would be better spent, better targeted, on their own resources. But equally we have to question then the profits that these private ambulance companies are paying. And if as you’ve reported there that they’re only receiving just over ten pounds an hour, if these are qualified paramedics, this is appalling rates of pay, when what they’re expected then to do are to attend accidents or seriously ill patients. And I can quite understand why they’re probably having to stay in a tent.
PAUL STAINTON: Would it fill you with confidence if you’d had a major accident and somebody came to pick you up who’d been spending the night in a tent? It doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence.
DENISE BURKE: It doesn’t at all. And I think what is difficult to accept is that what we’ve tried to do is when we’ve had feedback from patients that have either been in an accident or have needed medical attention urgently at home, they’re not always aware that actually the crew that turns up are actually a private ambulance. That’s the last thing on your mind. You realise an ambulance has turned up. You realise that somebody in uniform has turned up. It’s not until sometimes afterwards do you realise that what’s attended is a private ambulance.
PAUL STAINTON: Is it acceptable I suppose is what I’m trying to get at that people providing healthcare in Cambridgeshire in whatever profession are living in a tent?
DENISE BURKE: Goodness no. It’s not at all. You also, let’s not forget about things like health and safety, sleep and whatever, health and safety wise what are the living, sleeping conditions, cleaning, washing facilities like? No, it’s rather worrying. And I think if East of England Ambulance Service has to commission private ambulance firms, then what it needs to do it needs to look at who it’s commissioning with, and it needs to dig down deeper to see the conditions, the terms and conditions, that those working paramedics are actually having to abide by.
PAUL STAINTON: The East of England Ambulance Service have issued a statement. They say “The quality of our service delivery is of utmost importance to us, so before working in partnership with us, private ambulance organisations must undergo a thorough Trust-accredited process and meet stringent criteria. Those who are employed by the private ambulance services are qualified to recognised NHS standards.”