East of England Ambulance Service paramedic recruitment "unacceptable"

Image caption The East of England Ambulance Service covers six counties

The East of England Ambulance Service has had a net recruitment of four paramedics this year, when its target was to employ 149 extra.

Figures released for the first nine months of 2013 show 40 paramedics left the service, while 44 were taken on.

Norman Lamb, Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk, said the situation was "unacceptable".

The service said the process was long-term and more recruitment was expected when students graduate early next year.

The East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust, which serves Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk and Suffolk, has been criticised by MPs for poor response times.

Its board of trustees resigned in the summer and it is still seeking a permanent chief executive after a job interview process failed to fill the post.

'Completely unacceptable'

The figures, released under the Freedom of Information Act, showed that in 2012 there was a net loss of 52 paramedics, with 57 leaving and five recruited.

The trust announced earlier this year it would spend £14m on new emergency ambulances and £2.3m on its response car fleet.

Mr Lamb, who is also a health minister, said: "It is completely unacceptable that they have spent a fortune on private ambulances while failing to recruit front-line staff.

"It is impossible to develop a clear long-term vision for turning the organisation around when there is currently only an interim executive team.

"We desperately need a strong leadership team which can turn the organisation around and deliver the improvements that are necessary."

Denise Burke, Labour's prospective parliamentary candidate for North Norfolk, said: "We accept there is not a quick-fix to get the necessary qualified staff, but how much time does this trust need to become fit-for-purpose?

"It is leaving the front-line staff frustrated with the organisation."

'Nationwide issue'

The trust set out its paramedic recruitment targets in April 2013.

A spokesperson for the service said: "This is a nationwide issue and we are competing against other trusts who have vacancies.

"We have made offers of employment to more than 70 paramedics and we are expecting to recruit more early next year when student paramedics graduate.

"This is a long-term process."

Therese Coffey, Conservative MP for Suffolk Coastal, said: "Part of the issue was the previous chief executive trying to reduce the number of paramedics on the ground.

"The [latest] plan was only approved a couple of months ago, so we shouldn't be too surprised recruitment hasn't got so far yet, but we need to see that accelerate."

The figures also showed there had been a net recruitment of three specialist paramedics in 2013, when the long-term target was for 82.

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