New figures have indicated that large numbers of paramedics are quitting their jobs at the NHS ambulance services.
Senior staff said that this has placed the remaining crews under tremendous pressure.
Around 1015 paramedics quit their jobs during 2013/14, compared to 593 during the same period two years earlier.
According to the Department of Health, an additional £28m is to be spent on the ambulance service in England during this year.
The largest increase in paramedics leaving their jobs was seen at the London Ambulance Service where 223 left during 2013/14. This number is four times greater than during 2011/12.
London Ambulance Service attributed this increase to low morale. It states that 75% of paramedics who participated in the survey had given consideration to leaving the service during the past year. One of the main grievances of anonymous paramedics is the increased workload.
A London paramedic for the past 10 years, Alison Blakely, said she loves her job, but during her shift she does not have adequate time to take a break. She said she makes use of hospital toilet facilities as often as she can, and eats and drinks as and when she gets the opportunity. She stated that the control room tries to give them rest breaks, but the high demand does not allow this.
A London paramedic, who chose to remain anonymous, said that there are often as many as 200 emergency calls on hold and the service does not have sufficient staff or vehicles to cope with this. He said when he first started his job, it was unusual for someone to leave the service other than when they retired, however, the last two to three years has seen an unprecedented number opt to leave.
This is not only happening in London though.
According to the chairman of the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives, Anthony Marsh, the increase in the number of 999 calls during this year and the increased number of paramedics leaving the service has resulted in front-line staff facing greater pressures.
He said, traditionally ambulance services receive around 4% more 999 calls per year, as has been the case for the past decade, but this year they have seen a huge increase in the number.
The increase in emergency calls has outpaced the increase in the number of qualified ambulance staff, which has seen an increase of around 1.6% per year in England over the past 10 years.
During 2011/12, 12 of the 13 emergency ambulance trusts in the UK who responded to requests employed 13828 paramedics. This increased to 15004 during 2013/14.
The medical director for London Ambulance Service, Dr Fiona Moore, estimates a national shortage of up to 3000 paramedics. She says that expectations of what the service should be used for has changed.
She said that there has been an increase in calls from the 21 to 30-year-old age group and she believes that the supermarket culture which is prevalent in society, which allows one to purchase a loaf of bread at 04:00 in the morning, promotes wanting access to healthcare whenever it suits someone.
The London trust is taking action to try and reduce the workloads of staff and to improve their service.
It has offered in excess of 180 paramedics jobs on a recruitment expedition to New Zealand and Australia and has increased the number of calls which do not receive an ambulance, but are referred to other services instead.
Nationally, the number of new paramedic recruits during 2013/14 was lower than the year before, with some paramedics raising concerns that the number of new recruits with achievements in degree courses is far too low to meet the demand.
Image Credit: DAVID HOLT