East Anglia ambulance staff 'forced to camp while working'
An MP has called for an investigation into claims private ambulance staff are sleeping in tents because they cannot afford basic accommodation.
Private ambulance staff used by the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust have been staying at a Cambridgeshire campsite.
Julian Huppert, MP for Cambridge, said it was a "real problem".
ERS Medical, who provide the staff, said it paid allowances of £35 a day, "above the industry norm".
Staff are hired from private contractors when the NHS East of England Ambulance Trust needs cover and half a dozen workers, who live in other parts of the country, have been staying at a campsite near Huntingdon.
A whistleblower said staff were camping because the £35 a day to cover food and board when working away from home was not enough to pay for a hotel room.
An NHS ambulance worker, who wanted to remain anonymous, said: "It doesn't really surprise me - I fail to see how you can travel from another area and have a hotel room, bed and breakfast or anything like that on the rates they'll be receiving."
Mr Huppert, Liberal Democrat MP, said it was "astonishing".
"The [private ambulance companies] charge a fair whack I suspect for the staff, so I would expect they would be able to make sure they were able to afford to stay somewhere comfortable while they're working," he said.
"Camping can be fun, but it's not great if you have a very late night and want to unwind.
"I think the agency should look very carefully at how much support it's giving its own staff."
An ERS spokesperson said: "We always provide suitable financial support to ensure that all crews have sufficient rest between shifts.
"We have specifically questioned our crews as to the suitability of the campsite and have received unequivocal responses that say it's a great site with appropriate facilities and that they enjoy good sleep and comfort. They are not at risk."
Dr Dan Poulter, health minister and MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, said: "It's something I find very difficult to accept as being good conditions in which to house staff who have patients' lives in their hands.
"This is clearly something the ambulance trust will want to look at immediately as they are responsible for assigning contracts - and they need to do so."
A spokesperson for the NHS East of England Ambulance Trust said: "The quality of our service delivery is of upmost importance 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 standard."