An ambulance trust chief executive has warned that the lack of a national funding scheme for training paramedics could only exacerbate workforce shortages if it is not tackled.
Ken Wenman, a board member of the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives, also said the urgent and emergency care review by NHS England medical director Sir Bruce Keogh was the “solution” to the workforce problem in the ambulance service.
Mr Wenman, who is also chief executive of South Western Ambulance Service Foundation Trust, said: “Fundamentally, across the country I know there is no consistently applied funding for the paramedic degree so if you want to become a paramedic you have to fund yourself. It costs £27,000 to become a paramedic with the fees alone so you could end up qualifying after three years but having a big fat bill.”
He added: “There is a concern that the shortage of paramedics versus the output of universities within the country won’t match the needs of the [national] workforce plan.”
While local initiatives have been funded to train up existing staff to become paramedics, there is no nationwide fund, he said.
However, he said that Health Education England has recognised this concern and has made the ambulance workforce a priority.
HEE has pledged to increase the number of paramedic training places by 87 per cent over the next two years.
He added: “I think we will see [national investment] over the next year because [HEE] have promised to treat ambulance workforce as a priority for future development.
“With their support, which means universities will be able to take in more cohorts of students, places will be funded and we should see the workforce problem go away over three years.”
The urgent and emergency care review being overseen by Sir Bruce has been welcomed by Mr Wenman as the “solution” to the workforce problem in the sector because it gives paramedics a “more varied” role outside of emergency care.
He said: “The Keogh review is the solution because what it does is it looks to integrate, so rather than paramedics leaving the 999 service what it’s asking for is for ambulance services to become more integrated with these urgent care services and primary care by offering contracts for paramedics that are more varied, more interesting.
“What has to be the right way for the future is not having GP surgeries employing their own paramedics but having GP surgeries commission under contract their local ambulance service to provide paramedics to do what it was they wanted to employ them for.”
Ambulance services are experiencing an increased number of calls from healthcare professionals, as well as patients. Mr Wenman said that there has been a rise in calls from healthcare professionals requesting ambulance services from GP surgeries, care homes and district nurses.
The government this week began a pilot scheme at two ambulance services to increase the response time they have to assess a patient’s condition. South West Ambulance Service Foundation Trust and London Ambulance Service Trust will test a three minute assessment period to work out patient need before sending out a response vehicle - two minutes longer than normal.
Mr Wenman said: “It is the only initiative that I have seen for a long time that looks to manage the demand on ambulance services and therefore emergency departments. I’ve heard lots of suggestions how you should stop or abolish targets but, let’s be realistic, so long as there are MPs in government you’re never going to stop targets.
He added: “Targets for the ambulance service have worked well because in the early days it generated a level of investment that was definitely necessary.”