The London Ambulance Service (LAS) was branded inadequate and unsafe by the Care Quality Commission in a report released last week. It was the first ambulance trust to be put into “special measures”. The findings came as no surprise to any of us who work there.
Over the past couple of years we have repeatedly warned that unworkable and inflexible new rotas, a bullying style of management and increasing pressure on staff would drive hundreds of skilled and committed ambulance workers to quit their jobs.
This is the key factor that has undermined the vital service we provide. We are barely into winter pressures and already we are seeing unacceptable waiting times for sick and injured patients.
The gap created by a shortage of frontline staff is being filled in part by using private ambulances. The Independent newspaper reported last year that spending on private ambulances in London had shot up by an incredible 1,000 percent in just two years.
LAS managers have responded to the report by talking about the new staff it has recruited–failing to mention that the vast majority of these will not be trained or paid to paramedic level. Indeed most new staff will not be offered any opportunity to progress to become qualified paramedics.
The crisis in the LAS is created in part by government policy–the serious underfunding of the NHS, growing privatisation, the internal market, low pay and attacks on pensions and extensive restructuring.
The Tories’ austerity attacks and cuts in social care, mental and public health budgets have also pushed more and more desperate people into relying on ambulances and A&E departments to get help.
Throughout the NHS the growing pressure is passed down from the top to overstretched and underpaid staff on the ground. This is why the LAS report has such similar findings to recent hospital inspections that revealed low staff morale, staff shortages and widespread bullying.
Top managers at the LAS are also to blame—they raked in huge salaries while ignoring the warnings from union members. Shockingly, none of the managers responsible for the crisis have been sacked – they have all been allowed time to go and find other lucrative work. Some have even found promotions.
Some staff believe that it is good that the LAS has been put in “special measures” and that there has been some recognition of the problems affecting ambulance workers.
However, there is no guarantee that the special measures will lead to addressing any of these problems–that will depend on fighting collectively for change.
Ambulance workers, like others in the NHS, are committed to our patients and we are proud of the care we deliver—our skills and compassion were praised by the CQC. That is why we must step up our fight for better pay and working conditions in the ambulance service and oppose the Tories’ agenda for the NHS.