How did this job shortfall get to be so significant?

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It is troubling to hear there are more than 300 vacancies that urgently need filling in South Central Ambulance Service (Scas).

This number far outstrips the neighbouring ambulance services – it’s more than six times the amount of vacancies in each of the South East and South Western services.

The suggestion of Portsmouth South MP Mike Hancock of targeting retired service personnel is certainly one that sounds sensible and cost-efficient on the face of it – people who are already well-trained would be ideal.

But asking cash-strapped services to subsidise housing would be trickier.

The comment from Scas that it is looking for people in Poland to fill the vacancies is clearly going to raise alarm bells in certain quarters – and will no doubt bring out the ‘coming over here, taking our jobs’ brigade.

But the simple fact of the matter is that they wouldn’t be considering these measures if there were enough qualified people already here who could take up these posts.

And with the region facing an ageing population, the demand for ambulance services is only going to increase over time.

As ever, it would help if the public was sensible in the way it uses 999 to reduce the burden on what is clearly a very stretched resource.

In the meantime Scas says it is mitigating the impact of the shortage by employing private ambulance providers, which cannot be a cost-effective solution in the long-term.

Filling these posts must be a priority for Scas. But it should not be to the detriment of the quality of the people it employs.

The service also needs to look at how such a large shortfall was able to develop in the first place – and make sure that it does not happen again.