London Ambulance Service is in its “worst crisis ever” with “bullied” paramedics leaving the service unable to respond to 999 calls fast enough, according to a patient watchdog.
In January’s figures, released yesterday, not one single London borough managed to meet their target of reaching 75 per cent of the most serious category A emergencies within eight minutes.
In one area - Waltham Forest - the figure dipped as low as 38 per cent over Christmas.
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Ambulance bosses have resorted to holding recruitment drives in Australia to try to find extra medics.
But Malcolm Alexander, chairman of the independent health watchdog the Patients Forum for London’s Ambulance Services, said a “bullying culture” had made the “catastrophic” situation worse.
He said: “It is the toughest ever. Staff are not feeling valued and appreciated. What comes out is this issue of bullying.
“I have been reliably informed this year’s [staff survey] results are very poor.
“People who work 12 hours a day say they do not feel respected. That is why so many are leaving.”
Consultants are understood to have been commissioned to draw up a 2014 review into alleged “bullying” at the trust, whose former chief executive Ann Radmore abruptly resigned in January over the ambulance service’s crisis.
A recent freedom of information request for the report was told on February 24: “After a delay following a change in chief executive, we are currently in the process of reviewing the draft report and developing the arising action plan.
“An executive summary of the report is due to be discussed with our new chief executive and the executive management team in the coming weeks. “Once the final report is agreed it will be made available to all staff and through our website along with the action plan.”
Eddie Brand, chairman of the London Ambulance Unison branch which represents workers, said there was not “bullying” but the pressure of cuts was being transferred down from management to staff.
On recruitment, he said: “We go and employ people like mad and then it all gets taken away again. We’re always having to catch up.”
For as far back as 2012 it has been clear there have not been enough paramedics.
Dr Fionna Moore, then medical director at LAS, now replacement chief executive, told an inquest into the death of a Worcester Park misionary in October 2013: "It has become apparent that we give a poorer response time in the last 12 months - our staff are exceptionally highly utilised.
"It means there are always calls waiting for ambulances. Four years ago we thought we were busy if we had 900 category A [the most critical] calls in a day. This weekend we had 1,400 on each day. There is a national shortage of paramedics."
Vince Cable, business secretary, told the Evening Standard today: "It’s quite worrying. Their basic estimate was that they have 3,000 paramedics and [more than] 300 vacancies.
"They need a further 300 on top of that to have proper staffing levels. We are talking about a 20-25 per cent shortage, which is really not satisfactory at all."
A spokeswoman for London Ambulance said: “We are still awaiting the final report based on a survey of our staff experience.”
“In terms of our response times demand on our Service increases every year, in 2014 we received 100,000 more calls than in 2013.
"We are the busiest ambulance service in the world and last year we saw increasing levels of demand and a shortage of frontline staff which puts our service under significant pressure.
"Despite this we have seen an improvement in our response time to our most seriously ill and injured patients since the start of the year.
"There is a national shortage of paramedics in the UK which makes recruitment challenging.
"To address this and enable us to provide a safe service we have launched a national and international recruitment campaign and we will have recruited around 1,000 frontline staff by the end of the year.
“We are also prioritising our response to our sickest patients - people with minor injuries such as twisted ankles or dental pain are being given a further telephone assessment by a paramedic or referred to NHS 111, saving 3,500 ambulances a week.”
Category A response times: target 75% within eight minutes Jan 2015 – (compared to 2007/08 year)
Richmond and Twickenham: 61% (71%)
Wandsworth: 64% (75%)
Kingston: 69% (78%)
Croydon: 56% (76%)
Merton & Sutton: 65% (79%)
Neighbouring South East Coast Ambulance Service which includes Epsom and Elmbridge answered 76.2% of category calls within 8 minutes