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Ambulance Staff Urged to Take up Flu Jab Amid High Sickness Levels

Published on: 31 Jan, 2022
Updated on: 3 Feb, 2022

A South East Coast Ambulance

By Julie Armstrong

local democracy reporter

Sickness levels are unusually high in the ambulance service as the enormous pressures facing staff present as stress and anxiety.

This is on top of about 270 workers currently off for Covid-related reasons, with the level of those with long Covid “creeping up”.

At the same time, the South East Coast Ambulance Service (SECAmb) remains in the top level of the NHS framework that measures service pressure.

Chief executive Philip Astle said at the NHS Foundation Trust board meeting on Thursday (January 27): “This disease isn’t going away. As soon as the kids go back to school you can see the cases rising again, even though the Omicron spike has passed.

Chief executive Philip Astle Photo – SECAmb NHS

“What we are having to keep a very close eye on is the number of our people with long Covid is continuing to increase.

“Now 40 doesn’t sound a lot – but that’s 40 staff who potentially haven’t been working since nearly two years.”

At the peak of the Omicron spike in early January, Covid kept nearly 400 SECAmb staff off work, though during the delta variant spike it was nearly 500.

Mr Astle continued: “Other sickness also remains higher than we are used to and that we’ve planned for, and that’s significantly because of additional staff suffering stress and anxiety disorders, particularly higher numbers in our call centre environments where things have been incredibly busy for a long time and that pressure is showing in that way.”

In a bid to keep ambulance staff healthy they are being urged to have their flu jab, with current uptake only at 58 per cent.

Judith Ward, interim director for nursing and quality, said: “It’s certainly lower than I would want it; herd immunity is at 75 per cent and we are trying to get there.

“We’re in alignment with other NHS trusts who have struggled as well.”​

The service remains in REAP 4, the highest level of pressure in the national measurements of activity.

This means delays for patients and for staff, shift overruns that the chief executive describes as “unacceptably high”.

On January 10, the mean response time for an ambulance was just over eight minutes for immediately life-threatening and time-critical incidents, exceeding the national seven-minute target.

For emergencies, such as a stroke, average response time was nearly 25 minutes, over the 18-minute target.

Performances have improved since the end of October 2021 when response times were nearly ten minutes and just over 41 minutes respectively.

The trust was under such demand last July it declared a business continuity incident, which gave it the flexibility to suspend staff meal breaks where necessary and call in off-duty managers to support emergency duties.

The executive decided to lift this incident on Wednesday (January 26) as a result of the improved performance.

Mr Astle said: “It reflects our performance relative to other ambulance services, some of whom are also de-escalating in a similar way.”

But the board was warned that “headwinds” such as a flu outbreak or the effect in April of the mandatory Covid vaccine legislation could cause a return to the higher level.

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