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Berkshire suffering 'unacceptable' ambulance shortage

There is a ‘completely unacceptable’ shortage of ambulances in the Berkshire area, it was revealed last week.

South Central Ambulance Service (SCAS), which serves the counties of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hampshire and Oxfordshire, is often up to 15 ambulances short, it was disclosed at a public board meeting last Thursday.

The shortage has been slammed as ‘completely unacceptable’.

According to a report from the meeting, the reasons given for the shortage are an increase in 999 calls and increased staff.

Other reasons are unexpected mechanical problems and shift ‘over-runs’, where crews are called out to a very ill patient just before their shift ends, meaning the vehicle is returned late.

The meeting report states: “This is completely unacceptable, and we have initiated a review into how many ambulances we need in total to be sure that we can always supply our staff with the right resources.

“Increasing 999 demand and our improving staffing position has exposed a need to review the number of ambulances that are available for use by our staff.

“We were often up to 12 to15 ambulances short, meaning that some crews did not have ambulances at the start of their shifts.”

SCAS is has ordered 52 new ambulances, the first of which will arrive by mid-November.

It had also planned to purchase 10 new ambulances next year, but has opted to bring that forward to this year in an attempt to mitigate the difficulties.

According to the report, steps have also been taken to increase by 10 the available ambulances by reducing some vehicle inspection requirements.

The maximum operational life of its ambulances has also been decreased from seven years to five years, meaning vehicles will spend less time off the road for maintenance.

Paul Jefferies, Assistant Director of Operations at South Central Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Like any ambulance service in the country, there are times when we unexpectedly have a small number of vehicles unavailable that are scheduled to be operational.

“At SCAS over the last few months, we have also experienced increasing problems with the oldest vehicles in our fleet that has taken more of these ambulances off the road on a temporary or permanent basis.

“As we always prioritise our resources to our most seriously ill or injured patients, at specific locations where an ambulance is unexpectedly unavailable, then a very small number of patients whose condition is not serious or life-threatening (where we would normally respond within two or three hours) may have experienced a slight delay whilst a replacement ambulance is sourced.”

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