Sunday, 9 February 2014

Paramedic Recruitment Concerns Discussed on BBC Radio 5 live Breakfast

I got a call from the BBC on Friday afternoon asking if I was available to discuss London Ambulance Service's announcement that they were looking to recruit experienced paramedics from abroad.

At 0550 the next morning, I was on my way to the local broadcasting studio to be plugged into the Beeb communication mainframe so I could talk to Tony Livesey, co-host of Radio 5 live's Saturday Breakfast show based in Manchester.

This short conversation, which aired at 0650, was the result (click the orange 'play' button to listen to the clip):

Further Thoughts

As has been the case on my previous appearances, I came away feeling we'd barely scratched the surface of the topic.

Had there been more time (or perhaps if I'd rambled less), I'd have liked to brought the focus of the discussion around to attrition (which was where I was going with the 20,000 registered paramedics) with many experienced paramedics being lost to burn-out, injury or opportunities elsewhere. This ongoing loss of experienced staff is surely one of the primary reasons for Trusts to need to go to such desperate measures to recruit, not the 'increase in demand' as the LAS press release cites. I'm sure the continual rise in demand and the lack of adequate resources couldn't have come as such a surprise to them that they suddenly need to go to the far side of the planet.

As many of the comments of the Broken Paramedic Facebook discussion pointed out, there are many reasons for people to be leaving and far fewer for them to be arriving - especially in London, where the cost of living on a paramedic salary is far less appealing than elsewhere in the country, even with London weighting.

It will be interesting to see if the recruitment campaign is a success, especially given that there would likely be a backlash if there was a 'golden hello' package involved.

Incidentally, 'golden hellos' were the reason why the above broadcast ended with a slightly out-of-place statement from East of England Ambulance Service regarding their recruitment and counselling services. The reason for that was that, during discussions with the BBC production team on Friday afternoon, I had brought their attention to a related paramedic recruitment story published that day in the Eastern Daily Press, in which EEAS were criticised for 'spending more than £100,000 on “golden hello” payments to new front-line staff.' In order to give them the 'right to reply', EEAS were contacted.

In any case, the fact that efforts are being made to bolster the ranks of paramedics can only be a good thing. It seems to indicate funding and management decisions are heading in the right direction.

Or is that being too optimistic?

Friday, 7 February 2014

Why We Need the National Health Action Party

Healthcare in the UK is in crisis.

This is not a case of heading for crisis or teetering on the edge of crisis. We're already there. We're currently wallowing in the depths of crisis and sinking further.

Of course, if you're a front-line clinician (as I suspect most of my readers are), then you're already more than aware of this. Your daily working life no doubt provides constant reminders as you find yourself scrambling to make up for systemic failures whilst apologising to the general public.

You're probably also aware that the current government is capitalising on the mistakes of its predecessors and is cheerfully promoting the erosion of the National Health Service in order to subvert its purpose. Health - be it your patient's or your own - is no longer the priority. The Health and Social Care Act 2012 has paved the way for a world where the word 'healthcare' will be a brand, probably patented by the highest bidder. Get ready for a new employment contract designed to maximise profit for Corporation X or Y.

The National Health Action Party has been borne out of necessity in order to oppose these sinister political attempts to replace a transparent healthcare system aimed at providing the best possible care to all patients with one which will be designed to provide a profit to shareholders and obfuscate performance.

Ambulance Symptoms

Ambulances stuck at Norfolk & Norwich A&E 
On the front lines of the ambulance service we have already seen the impact of such policies: as resources are stretched beyond capacity by reduced funding, ridiculous fines and ever-lengthening travel times caused by A&E closures and the lack of available 24-hour services, NHS ambulance trusts have increasingly used expensive private ambulances crewed by staff of indistinct clinical standards.

Despite not even being classified as a true emergency service, ambulance trusts around the country are increasingly being relied upon to paper over the ever-widening government-inflicted cracks elsewhere in healthcare services. For years, the UK's ambulance infrastructure has been increasingly incapable of coping with demand, so this additional pressure is untenable.

It's not a case of waiting until something terrible happens. Something terrible is happening every day and rather than providing the resources to deal with that, this government thinks this is an environment ripe for competition and profit? How is that even ethical?

Why else would a growing tide of concerned clinicians and general public be uniting in political opposition under the flag of the National Health Action Party, led by Dr. Clive Peedell, Dr. Richard Taylor and an executive team filled with healthcare professionals.

A Necessary and Principled Response

Dr. Peedell and NHAP supporters conduct a funeral for the NHS
Most healthcare practitioners would prefer to remain professionally apolitical. Sadly, there is mounting pressure requiring action to be taken to stop the agenda of a government which continues to show no respect for democracy, the population it serves, or the history of their own country.

Paramedics and other ambulance clinicians are expected not to judge, to treat everyone equally no matter what their class, race, or their religious or political views. Indeed, the same philosophy is shared by all individuals whose vocation it is to pursue a career of helping others. Doctors have their Hippocratic oath - a code of ethics charging them to treat all patients with integrity and to 'keep them from harm and injustice'. Indeed, all clinicians adhere to similar standards in practice, from the highest consultant to the myriad support staff.

Consider that the NHS itself was founded on these three principles:

  • that it meet the needs of everyone
  • that it be free at the point of delivery
  • that it be based on clinical need, not ability to pay

Throughout the DNA of the NHS is the principle of putting patient care before personal gain. It doesn't matter which political party was in power when the NHS was formed, what is relevant is that the NHS was forged in the bleak post-war years when community values were more important than the acquisition of material wealth.

It was an idea from a time when people had less but saw value in community more than things. A time when people knew when to stand against forces and ideas that were not in the interests of the community. The NHS was a gift to us from a generation who fought to ensure we, their children and grandchildren, could have better lives.

Lives that we now take for granted.

Fighting for the Future of Healthcare

If the NHS no longer functions effectively to serve the society for which it was intended, is it the principles of the NHS which have gone wrong, or society itself?

Perhaps this government is representative of the materialistic, every-man-for-himself modern attitude where financial well-being totally eclipses health, altruism and community, but I hope not. Is that really the template for the future society we want to pass on to our children?

I want to believe that we can exist in a society where compassion isn't metered according to quarterly profits. I want to stand in the way of those who would choose personal gain over doing right by others. I will be doing this with the National Health Action Party because I believe the other parties have lost their way.

To my fellow clinicians, support staff and all those who believe in the values of the NHS, I ask only that you take the time to make an informed decision and consider making a stand too.

Before it is too late.

Aneurin 'Nye' Bevan (Lab), Minister of Health 1945-51 on the NHS.