AN AMBULANCE service has admitted a vehicle shortage leaves some crews starting shifts without a vehicle.
South Central Ambulance Service, which serves four million people in Hampshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, is often up to between 12 and 15 ambulances short according to the latest board report which deemed it ‘completely unacceptable’.
SCAS has since launched a review into the amount of ambulances needed with 52 new ambulances hoped to arrive by mid-November.
The report reads: ‘We were often up to 12 to 15 ambulances short, meaning that some crews did not have ambulances at the start of their shifts. 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.
‘The arrival of 52 new ambulances will give us the opportunity to retain some of our older vehicles to bridge the gap. In addition, we have brought forward from next year the purchase of 10 new ambulances.
The report added that the shortage will also be addressed by reducing vehicle inspection requirements which should increase the available ambulances by 10.
It said the reason for the review was increased 999 demand and a rise in staffing.
Paul Jefferies, assistant director of operations at South Central Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SCAS), 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.
‘This can include shift over-runs, when an ambulance crew expected to finish at 7pm – with the vehicle then being taken by a night shift crew – only get back to base at 8.30pm because they were called to a very ill or injured patient towards the end of their shift, as well as unexpected mechanical problems with the vehicle or road traffic collisions.
‘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.
‘This affects around 45 of our 370 front line vehicles which are over seven years old.’
In a public board meeting yesterday, it was reported that the maximum operational life of all vehicles will now be seven years, with the aim to reduce this to five years in the future.
This will reduce the time each vehicle spends off-the-road both for routine and planned maintenance, and younger vehicles have fewer unexpected mechanical problems too.
SCAS has also been working with a subsidiary fleet maintenance company to maintain a ‘buffer’ stock of between 10 to 15 vehicles available at short notice if required to meet unexpected vehicle shortages as the new fleet arrives.
Mr Jefferies said: ‘As we always prioritise our resources to our most seriously ill or injured patients, at specific locations where an ambulance scheduled to be operational 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.’