PARAMEDICS in Huntingdonshire say they are “embarrassed” by the lack of ambulance cover in the district.

Two ambulance workers, who wish to remain anonymous for fear of disciplinary action, have told The Hunts Post that there is a serious staff shortage at the East of England Ambulance Service Trust.

They also claim that the ambulances that are in service are often staffed by emergency care assistants (ECAs), who do not have clinical training and aren't always qualified to deal with the medical conditions they are sent to treat.

In a letter to The Hunts Post, one trust employee described an "unacceptable level of ambulance cover in our area" and added: "Shift after shift there has been shortcomings in the numbers of available ambulances and rapid response vehicles operating from our three stations at Huntingdon, St Ives and St Neots."

A spokesman for the trust said it recognised parts of Cambridgeshire "need additional resources" and it was investing £400,000 in improving rural cover. It was also employing more than 40 new frontline staff in Cambridgeshire, including 20 paramedics.

An ambulance worker said: "Staff shortages and the large amount of ECAs are a big issue. It has diluted the amount of clinical cover we have. They (the trust) say they will never answer a 999 call without a qualified clinician - but that is happening. We have got such a large pool of ECAs and such a small pool of paramedics and technicians that it is becoming a bigger issue.

"There is also a public awareness issue. Staff are going into situations where members of the public believe they are qualified but they're not."

She said it was causing a lot of work-related stress, which was exacerbating the staffing problems.

The paramedic explained that the trust was being forced into decisions by £50million-worth of cuts handed down by the government, but added that they could have made better savings.

The government was also blamed for compromising rural cover by imposing strict response time targets, which directly affect ambulance trusts' funding.

"Rural areas are being compromised for the sake of the cities. We are frequently pulled into other areas to hit time targets."

It was also claimed that more problems are being caused by the "top-heavy" trust's lack of investment in managerial training.

"Clinicians are being promoted to management posts. Knowledge of the job is essential but they don't have the managerial skills as well."

She added: "The impact of all this on staff and response times is huge - it can't be underestimated."

The trust spokesman said that as well as the current outlay, recent investments of £250,000 a month had seen trust-wide performance improve "dramatically", with figures from July to date showing it is beating the national standards for reaching 75 per cent of the most serious patients within eight minutes at 76.4 per cent.

She added: "We are building on this with the most intelligent analysis of demand to date to ensure new rotas will put resources where they are needed most and taking stringent steps to improve handover delays at hospital.

"We will always dispatch the closest appropriate resource to a patient based on the information we have been given during the call. Staff are positively encouraged to raise perceived issues with individual cases through the trust reporting system so we can learn from any untoward incidents and improve the service."

She said that paramedic numbers have risen by more than 50 per cent since 2007, going from 948 almost 1,500.

She added: "Emergency Care Assistants (ECAs) have been recruited over and above a huge increase in the number of paramedics in the past five years… They are an invaluable resource and are necessary to support more paramedics then we have ever had before."