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Military personnel partner with South Central Ambulance Service amid staff shortages

PICS: Steve Parsons / PA

SCAS has been experiencing staff absences of up to 20% during the Omicron wave.

A team of more than 30 military personnel have signed up to support the ambulance service - which covers Oxfordshire and the wider Thames Valley.

The volunteers are all trained in driving emergency vehicles and can also provide medical support to the civilian clinicians who will still man all ambulances from the trust.

Paul Jefferies, SCAS assistant director of operations, told the PA news agency: “Like all ambulance services, for the last 20 months we have been dealing with the Covid pandemic and most recently we found some additional staffing pressure with Covid affecting our workforce.

“Our sickness has been up to 20% in the latter part of December and early part of this month and that has reduced to 17% now – we would normally see 6% to 8%.

“It affects our ability to put out operational crews so the military has supported us in wave one and two of Covid and we have worked with the military for 15 years now and they provide some emergency cover on their days off.

“As part of this recent military aid to the civil authorities we are getting around 30 military personnel to support us on frontline vehicles because these are trained personnel to enable us to deliver effective patient care.

“They are blue-light driver trained so they can drive an ambulance under emergency conditions and they will work on an ambulance with a clinician and they have a level of qualification to enable them to assist in the delivery of patient care.”

Paul added: “We are delighted to have the military back with us on a formal basis, our staff get on really well with them, they share a similar mindset and skillset, they are able to think on their feet as our staff are and are able to adapt and change to situations.

“We are exceptionally proud of all of our staff, volunteers and co-responders whether working in back office, call centre or patient care on frontline, our staff have dug so deep these past 20 months.”

The medically trained service personnel have been supporting South Central Ambulance as volunteers for up to 16 years but have now been formally partnered to support the trust during the pandemic.

Major James Allen, of the Royal Artillery based at Defence Equipment and Support at Bristol, said: “We all do this as volunteers and we have been doing for 15 years or so and this is a military mobilisation of that capability into a more full-time role to underpin the ambulance service whilst they are experiencing staff shortages.”

He added: “There is always reward in being able to help people in their time of need and it is a core tenet of being a member of the military to assist the nation when required.”

Warrant Officer Alex Bedborough, of RAF Digital at Air Command HQ in High Wycombe, said he had been volunteering twice a week for 16 years.

He said: “You get a great amount of satisfaction from helping others, seeing the relief on a patient’s face, seeing the difference from when you arrive and when you leave, it’s a great deal of job satisfaction.”

Describing the change during the pandemic, he said: “The amount of jobs and the tempo has been very different for the last two years, you used to get a break in between jobs but for the last two years it’s absolutely constant, you book on at start of shift and you won’t stop until the end of it.

“They are really, really busy. We have been stacking ambulances 12 or 13 deep at times (at hospitals) which has prevented us from being out on the road, the whole NHS is incredibly busy.

“For the regular NHS its tiring for them, it’s exhausting, I would compare it to us being on deployment which is normally six months when you work at a high tempo and they have been doing it for four times that now over two years.”

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