Key areas of interest for paramedics in 2018

My Post (11)The most substantial development concerning paramedics this year is prescribing. Proposals to introduce independent paramedic prescribing were made to the Commission on Human Medicines (CHM) in 2015. However, the CHM did not support the proposals at that time. The College of Paramedics and NHS England went back to the CHM in July 2017 with case studies and an implementation plan to try and get further discussion. The following December the CHM decided to support independent prescribing by paramedics. It will now recommend implementation by making a submission to government ministers.

There is still a lot of work to be done and this is likely to be the key area for development of the profession in 2018. Legislation changes need to be made to enact the recommendation. Universities will have to develop their prescribing programmes and the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) will need to update its Standards for Prescribing. While it is unlikely there will be any paramedic prescribers until 2019 at the earliest, this marks a key progression in the development of the profession.

In September 2017, the HCPC began consulting on the threshold level of qualification for entry to the register for paramedics. The current level is outlined in the HCPC Standards of Education and Training at ‘equivalent to Certificate of Higher Education for paramedics’. However, the Paramedic Evidence Based Education Project (PEEP) report recommended the level to the paramedic register be raised to BSc (Hons) degree by 2019.
The consultation document proposes the level of qualification should be amended, due to the changing nature and complexity of the role of paramedics, and it illustrates the ongoing diversity in current qualifications across the UK. Any resultant change would not affect existing registered paramedics or students who are part way through pre-registration education and training programmes. The consultation closed on 15 December, with the outcome expected early this year.

Clinical practice

The UK Ambulance Services Clinical Practice Guidelines, last published in 2016, published supplementary guidelines last year. Although there will not be a new version of the guidelines this year, ongoing updates continue to be published online.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is updating its Quality Standard on Trauma. This quality standard covers assessment and management of trauma (complex fractures, non-complex fractures, major trauma and spinal injury) in adults, young people and children. It does not cover hip fracture or head injury as these topics are covered in a separate Quality Standard. The draft quality standard was open for consultation from 7 November to 5 December. The final Quality Standard is expected to be published on 29 March 2018.

Initial results from the AIRWAYS-2 trial are likely to be seen in spring 2018. This randomised trial is comparing the clinical and cost effectiveness of the i-gel supraglottic airway device with tracheal intubation in the initial airway management of patients suffering an out of hospital cardiac arrest.

At the time of writing, the final publication of the College of Paramedics’ position statement on paramedic intubation is still impending. Work began in May 2017 on the statement, with a group meeting in July to discuss and develop a first draft. This statement was reviewed and amended by several key clinical groups before being released to the membership and wider stakeholder organisations for comment. Consultation ran in September 2017, with final publication imminent.

Service delivery

NHS England and NHS Improvement have called on all A&E Delivery Boards to implement measures to reduce the impact of ambulance handover delays. They have outlined key principles concerning actions to be embedded as part of normal working practice, and actions to be taken should ambulances begin to queue.

Among the principles, they state acute trusts must always accept the handover of patients within 15 minutes of an ambulance arriving at the emergency department; that leaving patients waiting in ambulances or in corridors supervised by ambulance personnel is inappropriate; and that the patient is the responsibility of the emergency department from the moment that the ambulance arrives, regardless of the exact location of the patient. It will be interesting to see if the implementation of these measures will have an impact on reducing ambulance handover delays in 2018.

Ongoing feedback on the roll out of the Ambulance Response Programme (ARP) will continue throughout the year. The ARP saw changes to the triage of calls, known as dispatch on disposition, to allow more time for call handlers in cases that are not deemed as immediately life-threatening. Additionally, new call categories were introduced to better reflect the wide range of needs patients have when they dial 999. It is likely there will be national updates on the effectiveness of the ARP, hopefully with benefits of the change being seen, in 2018.

The NHS was promised £1.6 billion for 2018/19 and £900 million for 2019/20 in the autumn budget. While this is certainly welcome relief, it is still a far cry from the £4 billion health experts said the NHS needed. It is believed £1 billion of the cash pot for 2018/19 will be used to improve performance against the 18-week target for elective treatment and £600 million to help hospitals meet the 4-hour target in A&E.

Conclusions

These are just a few of the elements that will affect paramedics this year. Other areas not mentioned include the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill 2017–19, development of the nursing associate role, the national programme to support allied health professionals to return to practice, and the final report of the Asthma Audit Development Project. There are many challenges facing the NHS in the coming year, but with the upcoming developments in the profession, paramedics will find themselves in a key position to alleviate many of these pressures.

Taken from Journal of Paramedic Practice, published January 2018.

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More advanced paramedics needed if A&E pressure is to be eased

Adobe Spark (1)The NHS must introduce more advanced paramedics if emergency departments are to meet growing patient demand. The NHS is reaching a crisis point—annual rises in emergency admissions and insufficient resources mean patients aren’t receiving the necessary levels of care. Traditionally, care provided by paramedics has focused on the immediate assessment and management of potentially life-threatening emergencies. This is then followed by transfer to an appropriate receiving unit. However, increasingly, evidence suggests that patients who present to ambulance services with lower acuity presentations could alleviate the need for hospital admission by undergoing assessment and management in the community.

This is highlighted in new draft guidance published by NICE (2017), which should fall on welcome ears to ambulance services. It recommends that the NHS provides more advanced paramedic practitioners (APPs), who have extended training in assessing and treating people with medical emergencies, to relieve pressure on emergency departments.

Evaluating the evidence

In order to make these recommendations, the guideline committee investigated whether enhancing the competencies of paramedics resulted in a reduction in hospital admissions and demand for emergency department services. When considering clinical evidence, three studies were included in the review. Two studies, which came from the same cluster-randomised controlled trial, looked at a paramedic practitioner service in the UK, which gave enhanced training to paramedics.

The first study comprised 3018 people and evaluated the benefits of paramedic practitioners who have been trained with extended skills to assess, treat, and discharge older patients with minor acute conditions in the community (Mason et al. 2007). The evidence suggested that enhanced competencies of paramedics may provide benefit for reducing the number of hospital admissions (0–28 days), emergency department attendance (0–28 days), and patient and/or carer satisfaction. There was no effect on mortality.

The second study comprised 2025 people and evaluated the safety of clinical decisions made by paramedic practitioners of older patients contacting the emergency medical services with a minor injury or illness (Mason et al. 2008). Of the 3018 patients recruited into the randomised-controlled trial, 993 were admitted to the hospital at the index episode, which explains why they were excluded from the analysis in this study. The evidence suggested that there was no effect of paramedics’ enhanced competencies on unplanned emergency department attendance.

The final study was a non-randomised (quasi-experimental) study of emergency care practitioners who worked as single responders to ambulance service 999 calls, compared with standard paramedic or technician ambulance responding to ambulance service 999 calls. The study comprised 1107 people and aimed to evaluate the impact of emergency care practitioners on patient pathways and care indifferent emergency care settings.
(Mason et al. 2012). The evidence suggested that enhanced competencies of paramedics may provide a benefit from reduced numbers of patients referred to hospital (emergency department or direct admission to a hospital ward), and increased number referred to primary care.

Additionally, one cost-utility analysis was assessed to consider the economic implications of providing additional advanced paramedics within ambulance services, and found that the paramedic practitioner scheme was cost-effective compared with the standard 999 service (Dixon et al. 2009). This study was assessed as partially applicable with minor limitations.

Points for concern

There are a number of considerations when looking at the evidence in question that could be cause for concern. While evidence exists, it is minimal, with only one randomised-controlled trial and one non-randomised study evaluated by NICE. Though results from the studies are positive, it would be difficult to generalise them beyond the services assessed. Additionally, the quality of evidence is generally of a low GRADE (Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development and Evaluations). The randomised-controlled trial evidence has a moderate-to-low GRADE rating overall, mainly owing to risk of bias and imprecision (NICE 2017). The non-randomised study, although it had large effect sizes, has a very low GRADE rating as a result of high risk of bias and indirectness of the outcomes to the protocol (NICE 2017). The economic evidence was considered high-quality but only partially applicable because the costs were quite dated. Some social care costs were also included, which means that the perspective is not strictly NHS and personal social services (NICE 2017).

There are notable concerns over the definition of an APP, as there is a national lack of consensus over paramedic roles and scope of practice. This was a contributing factor to why independent prescribing by APPs was not recommended by the CHM and MHRA (Allied Health Professions Medicines Project Team 2016).

The need for unanimity across all ambulance services is a concern the College of Paramedics emphasised inits response to the guidance:

‘There has previously been insufficient attention given to career development and career opportunities and there is currently significant variation across the ambulance services in the definitions, titles, education, and training of specialist and advanced paramedics. To ensure consistency of education, training and qualification, the UK ambulance services would need to adopt the frameworks developed by the College of Paramedics, which provide detailed guidance on education, competencies, and career development’ (College of Paramedics 2017).

The College of Paramedics has a clear definition of the APP role in terms of competencies and education:

‘Advanced paramedics are experienced autonomous paramedics who have undertaken further study and skill acquisition to enable them to be able to deliver a more appropriate level of assessment and indeed care to patients in the community and access many more referral pathways.’

It is essential that this becomes the accepted definition across the NHS, and the private health sector. This will ensure that all advanced paramedics are clinically competent and that patient safety is not at risk. More advanced paramedic practitioners with extended training could alleviate current pressures on A&E services.

From guidance to practice

Consulting on the guidance closed on 14 August, with an expected publication of 20 December. If the guidance is to be put into practice, the most important step is to introduce additional funding for NHS ambulance services to educate their clinicians through advanced practice programmes. NHS England and clinical commissioning groups would then have to provide funding to deliver specialist and advanced paramedics as part of the core workforce. Additionally, regulation is essential to ensure clinical competency and patient safety.

There is no denying that acute and emergency care is a challenge for all health services. This is largely owing to the fact that as populations age, costs rise, and technological developments extend the limits of health care. However, providing acute and medical care in the community can reduce the need for hospital admissions.

The introduction of more advanced paramedics will meet the increasing and changing needs of patients who access 999 emergency ambulance services. Having a higher proportion of emergency patients assessed and treated in the community will cause a reduction in the number of attendances at emergency departments.

References

Allied Health Professions Medicines Project Team. 2016. Summary of the responses to the public consultation on proposals to introduce independent prescribing by paramedics across the United Kingdom. Leeds: NHS England.

College of Paramedics. 2017. College of Paramedics respond to NICE Consultation [Internet]. Bridgwater: College of Paramedics; [cited 2017 29 August]. Available from https://www.collegeofparamedics.co.uk/news/college-of-paramedics-responds-tonice-consultation.

Dixon S, Mason S, Knowles E. 2009. Is it cost effective to introduce paramedic practitioners for older people to the ambulance service? Results of a cluster randomised controlled trial. Emerg Med J. 26(6):446-51. http://doi.org/ 10.1136/emj.2008.061424.

Mason S, Knowles E, Colwell B et al. 2007. Effectiveness of paramedic practitioners in attending 999 calls from elderly people in the community: cluster randomised controlled trial. BMJ. 335(7626):919. http://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.39343.649097.55

Mason S, Knowles E, Freeman J, Snooks H. 2008. Safety of paramedics with extended skills. Acad Emerg Med. 15(7):607–12. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1553-2712.2008.00156.x.

Mason S, O’Keeffe C, Knowles E. 2012. A pragmatic quasi-experimental multi-site community intervention trial evaluating the impact of Emergency Care Practitioners in different UK health settings on patient pathways (NEECaP Trial). Emerg MedJ. 29(1):47-53. http://doi.org/10.1136/emj.2010.103572.

National Institute for Health and CareExcellence. 2017. Emergency and acute medical care in over 16s: service delivery and organisation: Draft guidance consultation [GID-CGWAVE0734] [Internet]. London: NICE; [cited 2017 29 August]. Available from https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/indevelopment/gid-cgwave0734/consultation/html-content.

Taken from Journal of Paramedic Practice, published 8 September 2017.

Do advanced paramedics have a role as independent prescribers?

adobe-spark-3The journey regarding the proposal to introduce independent prescribing by advanced paramedic practitioners has been one focused on patient safety and a strong case for need. The challenge for the profession has been to ensure it’s positioned to respond to any concerns, and that any changes to the law allowing prescribing are made on the basis that patients will benefit.

Ministerial approval to take the proposal forward to the public consultation phase was granted by NHS England on 15 August 2014. The NHS England Allied Health Professions Medicines Project Team, in partnership with the College of Paramedics, developed a case of need for the proposal based on improving quality of care for patients. These improvements related to safety, clinical outcomes and experience, as well as the efficiency of service delivery, and value for money. Approval of the case of need was received from NHS England’s medical and nursing senior management teams in May 2014, and from the Department of Health non-medical prescribing board in July 2014.

Alongside the paramedic proposal, NHS England consulted on proposals to allow three other allied health professions to be able to prescribe or supply and administer medicines, as appropriate for their patients. These proposals were for independent prescribing by radiographers; supplementary prescribing by dietitians; and the use of exemptions within the Human Medicines Regulations 2012 by orthoptists.

At the time, Suzanne Rastrick, Chief Allied Health Professions Officer at NHS England, said:

‘Our proposals will allow patients to get the medicines they need without delay, instead of having to make separate appointments to see their doctor or GP.

‘Breaking down barriers in how care is provided between different parts of the NHS is key to the vision set out in the NHS Five Year Forward View.

‘Extension of prescribing and supply mechanisms for these four professions creates a more flexible workforce, able to innovate to provide services that are more responsive to the needs of patients, and reduce demand in other parts of the healthcare system.’

The public consultation opened on 26 February 2015 and ran for 12 weeks. As well as consulting on proposals for advanced paramedics to become independent prescribers of medicines across the UK, it also proposed that consideration be given to paramedic independent prescribers being allowed to mix licensed medicines prior to administration, and prescribe independently from a restricted list of controlled drugs. Anyone was welcome to respond, and feedback was received from members of the public, patients/patient representative groups, carers, voluntary organisations, health-care providers, commissioners, doctors, pharmacists, allied health professionals, nurses, regulators, non-medical prescribers and the Royal Colleges, as well as other representative bodies.

Why independent prescribing was not recommended

Following the close of the consultation, responses received were collated and analysed. The responses were considered by both the Commission on Human Medicines (CHM) and Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), who felt unable to recommend independent prescribing for advanced paramedics at present.

The reasons for this decision were concerns over the wide range of conditions encountered by advanced paramedics and whether they could demonstrate evidence of adequate training and competency to diagnose the conditions that will be prescribed for. Additionally, there were notable concerns over the definition of an advanced paramedic practitioner, as this appears to vary between allied health professionals.

As a result, The CHM felt that independent prescribing might represent a risk to patient safety; for example, and in context with the lack of available evidence of competency at the time, if the wrong diagnosis was made and an inappropriate treatment was prescribed. They also felt that some of the examples cited to demonstrate a need for independent prescribing were not sufficiently robust.

Considering the possibility of independent prescribing

The College of Paramedics expressed disappointment that the CHM was unable to recommend independent prescribing for advanced paramedics at the present time, and has said it will continue its support and commitment to work with the project, and with NHS England this year to address the very legitimate comments made by the CHM. The college also said it would give regular updates to its members on the progress of the work.

Speaking on the possible future for independent prescribing by advanced paramedics, Andy Collen, medicines and prescribing project lead for the College of Paramedics, said:

‘We absolutely think that advanced paramedics have got a role as independent prescribers. The journey for any profession to undertake independent prescribing has to be done so with absolute rigour and consideration for patient safety. We need to provide reassurance that what is being proposed is going to benefit patients completely and that any risks are understood. Although it is disappointing, we absolutely welcome the feedback from CHM and we are continuing to work to answer the concerns the CHM have, and that is being supported by NHS England.’

Gerry Egan, chief executive officer of the College of Paramedics, said:

‘The College has a clear definition of the advanced paramedic role in terms of competencies and education and is working to make this the accepted definition both across the NHS and in the private health sector.

‘The College have no doubts advanced paramedics will deliver a massive benefit to patients in terms of delivering the right care at the right place and at the right time by the use of safe independent prescribing as part of integrated care systems.

‘The College remains totally committed to the proposal to introduce independent prescribing by advanced paramedics and looks forward to continuing supporting NHS England.’

Taken from Nurse Prescribing, published 9 September 2016.

Passing the mantle: a parting farewell

Adobe SparkThis issue of the Journal of Paramedic Practice will be my last as editor. It has been an honour and privilege to edit a publication aimed at one of the most exciting healthcare professions, and I am grateful for being given this fantastic opportunity. I took over the journal in 2013, having previously worked on a nursing title, and in those few short years have witnessed a notable change within the paramedic profession.

The publication of the Francis report marked the beginning of my time as editor, and although not directly concerned with paramedics, it highlighted a need for cultural change within the NHS, with an emphasis on patient-focused care. This was followed by the long overdue update to the UK Ambulance Services Clinical Practice Guidelines, which was welcomed by the profession. The latest update was published earlier this year.

The publication of the end of study report for the Paramedic Evidence Based Project (PEEP), which called for the introduction of a national education and training framework for paramedics, marked a turning point for the profession and highlighted how its needs were changing. This was cemented in Sir Bruce Keogh’s Urgent and Emergency Care Review, which called for the development of 999 ambulance services so that they become mobile urgent treatment services. Illustrating an appreciation of the skill set of paramedics, their potential in the delivery of pre-hospital care was finally being recognised.

The Five Year Forward View expanded on these ideas and proposed a broadened role for ambulance services. It was becoming apparent that out-of-hospital care was becoming an increasingly important part of the work the NHS undertakes.

One of the most significant changes within the profession over the last few years has been the growth of its professional body. As of January 2016 there were 6 458 full members of the College of Paramedics. This represents 29.7% of all paramedic registrants of the Health and Care Professions Council, the regulatory body for the paramedic profession. The increase in members show the College is one step closer to its aim of becoming a Royal College, which requires that 50% of the profession are members of the professional body.

However, this evolution has not been without its difficulties. Reports of staff facing burnout, time taken off work due to stress-related illnesses, problems with staff retention, disputes over pay, and the fundamental problem of how ambulance services can cope with year-on-year increases in demand, mean the workforce is facing all manner of pressures.

Despite this, I believe these are exciting times for paramedics. As we gradually see a move to an all-graduate profession and changes to the paramedic scope of practice, the opportunities for work outside of the ambulance service are growing.

As I pass the mantle, I look forward to seeing the journal reach new heights following my departure under a new editor. It only remains for me to personally thank my consultant editors, the editorial board, and of course, you the readers, who have ensured the publication could continue.

Taken from Journal of Paramedic Practice, published 5 August 2016.

Pay survey reveals two thirds of paramedics considering leaving ambulance service

Adobe Spark (5)Two thirds of staff say they will consider leaving the ambulance service if a change to the pay banding of paramedics is not made, according to a survey carried out by the Journal of Paramedic Practice.

An online poll completed by 1084 paramedics has revealed that 67% will consider leaving the ambulance service if the Government continues to fall back on its 2015 promise of reviewing the banding system to recognise the skill set of paramedics. Additionally, 87% felt the Government has misled ambulance service staff over promises for pay.

One respondent said: ‘Increased pressure to use alternative pathways, treat at home, discharge on scene. Increased level of assessment and treatment options, together with increased expectation of qualifications and study, but for no extra pay? Ridiculous.’

Another said: ‘Several of my colleagues and friends are struggling to pay their home bills and have left the job for better paying roles in the Arab states.’

Commenting on the findings, Gerry Egan, chief executive officer for the College of Paramedics, said:

‘Since its establishment, the College of Paramedics has worked hard to develop the paramedic profession in the interests of providing the best possible care to patients and to ensure that paramedics receive due recognition for the service they give to society.

‘This combined with the increased reliance on paramedics by the health system, which has come about for a number of reasons, means that there has been a continuous increase in the expectations of the range and quality of services that paramedics provide. So it comes as no surprise that the results of the Journal of Paramedic Practice’s survey are similar to a survey conducted by the College of Paramedics last year.

In 2014, paramedics were among the thousands of health professionals who took to the picket line in the first NHS strike over pay in 32 years.

The dispute came as ministers in England awarded NHS staff a 1% increase in pay, but only for those without automatic progression-in-the-job rises.

Despite the independent NHS Pay Review Body recommending a 1% rise across all pay scales, ministers claimed this was an ‘unaffordable’ cost.

In a desperate effort to resolve the pay dispute of 2014/15, the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, agreed to a number of commitments to ambulance staff, including a review of the banding system.

Current vacancy rates for the paramedic profession are at 10%. This represents 1 250 vacancies out of a total workforce of 12 500. It is believed that these high vacancy rates are due to changes made to the healthcare system in recent years. This includes a shift in focus to treat patients at home rather than conveying them to A&E, as well as a change in the nature and volume of job opportunities for paramedics.

Almost all respondents (93%) of the survey believed that the current scope of practice of paramedics is changing as a result of increased skills and competencies. Additionally, 94% felt band 6 of the Agenda for Change pay scale was a more appropriate pay band due to the level of responsibility and autonomy practised within the paramedic role, including triage, referrals, and decisions around non conveyance. Overall, 96% believed their pay did not reflect their responsibilities.

However, not all believed that current pay for paramedics has contributed to increasing vacancy rates and the number of people leaving the profession.

‘I disagree that this would be a reason for paramedics leaving,’ said one respondent. ‘With the role having changed so much, I believe that our advanced practice colleagues (paramedic practitioner/emergency care practitioner) are leaving to work in hospitals. There is potential to earn more money, better chance of a break, and better working conditions. I disagree that pay alone is a reason staff are leaving.’

According to Egan, the significance behind the figures for those considering leaving the profession may be unclear:

‘The responses regarding those intending to leave their positions as paramedics may be blurred somewhat between those intending to leave ambulance service employers and those who might leave the profession,’ he said. ‘It is a well-known fact that many paramedics are leaving ambulance services to take up opportunities in walk-in centres, minor injuries units and the like.’

A large number of respondents felt that it was work pressures and stress that have contributed most to the number of paramedics leaving the ambulance service:

One respondent said: ‘I don’t think pay is a factor in staff leaving. Lack of retention [is] more likely due to increased workloads, poor culture and public expectation.’

Another respondent said: ‘There have been some paramedics with MSc or BSc that have left to find better paid jobs. But the majority of paramedics leaving the profession is due to the increasing workload and the undertaking of urgent care alongside emergency work. Demand, stress and pressure are why paramedics are leaving, not money.’

Stress and burnout remain an undeniable issue facing ambulance staff, with paramedics in England taking 41 243 days off in 2014 as a result of stress-related illnesses. This has had an inevitable impact on those choosing to leave the ambulance service. Only a handful of ambulance services have agreed to pay paramedics Agenda for Change band 6 in the hope of recruiting and retaining paramedics .

Another significant finding was that 66% of respondents believed there are no adequate opportunities for career progression.

A common consensus was that progression only came in the form of management positions, with few opportunities for promotion in a clinical capacity.

One respondent said: ‘There are a number of areas within the paramedic profession to progress to, such as critical care roles or minor health roles, or management; however, these areas still do not have the same pay scale as other health sectors, meaning progression, while increasing skills, does not increase pay, therefore [it] is seen as a way to gain skills in order to leave to a sector with increased pay.’

However, this was not felt by all, with one respondent highlighting the work that the College of Paramedics has done to outline career pathways:

‘The College of Paramedics (and South East Coast Ambulance NHS Foundation Trust) has done a lot to develop career pathways. Integration of the out-of-hours providers and the ambulance service would provide even more opportunity for paramedics to progress as well as improving the response times for patients.’

Commenting on the suggestion there are insufficient career progression opportunities within the paramedic profession, Egan said: ‘The College would argue that its career framework sets out the roadmap for career progression and the shortage of opportunities may be a problem to be addressed by the main employers of paramedics.’

As a result of the Government not reviewing the banding system for paramedics, the unions UNISON, GMB and Unite conducted consultative ballots of ambulance staff. The responses indicated that ambulance staff in England will take part in industrial action, including strike action, if the Government continues to not deliver in its promises over pay.

Each union is reporting their ballot results to members, before consulting over the next steps.

Results published by Unite show that 66% of members voted yes to taking strike action and action short of strike action, with a turnout of 31%.

Results from the other two unions have not yet been made public.

A joint statement issued by the unions said:

‘We are clear that ambulance staff have waited for 12 months and are not going to wait longer. If possible, we would also like to avoid a dispute, and the disruption that strike action will bring, however we know that ambulance staff are not prepared to wait indefinitely.

‘We will be calling on Government to make real commitments to ambulance staff, within clear timescales. If there is a genuine will to avert a dispute then we will pause the move to a full industrial action ballot while we hold constructive discussions.’

While the National Ambulance Strategic Partnership Forum have made a formal request to the National Job Evaluation Group to look at the National Job Evaluation paramedic profile, only a handful of ambulance services have agreed to pay paramedics Agenda for Change band 6 in the hope of recruiting and retaining paramedics. This includes East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust, West Midlands Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust, Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust. There is currently no indication that other services will follow suit.

Taken from Journal of Paramedic Practice, published 1 July 2016.

Ambulance staff contemplate suicide due to poor mental health

Project M (1)‘It started to manifest itself after a failed resuscitation attempt on a child several years ago. While there were low-level symptoms over the years, and there were certain calls that would affect me more than others, there was much more severe recurrence after witnessing the aftermath of a plane crash over a year ago.’

Aryeh Myers, 39, is a paramedic for Magen David Adom, Israel’s national ambulance service. Before that he worked for London Ambulance Service NHS Trust for almost 10 years, as both an emergency medical technician (EMT) and paramedic. He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) just over a year ago.

Myers is one of an alarming number of paramedics whose mental health has suffered directly as a result of working for the ambulance service.

Recent figures published by mental health charity Mind revealed a third of ambulance staff surveyed contemplated taking their own lives due to stress and poor mental health. The results, taken from the responses of 1 600 emergency services staff and volunteers, including 308 in the ambulance service, also showed that 67% of ambulance staff contemplated leaving their job or voluntary role because of stress or poor mental health. A huge 93% reported experiencing stress, low mood and poor mental health at some point while working for the emergency services.

The figures also highlighted how 57% of ambulance staff took time off due to stress, low mood or poor mental health. These results reaffirm those published by The Observer that revealed over 40 000 days were lost by ambulance staff in 2014 due to mental health problems.

For Myers, he recalls how he took a month off work to begin treatment, including several sessions with a counsellor who taught him how to recognise triggers, how to partially ward them off, and particularly how to deal with the thoughts and reactions that those triggers bring.

‘It helped to a certain degree,’ he says. ‘At least I was able to go back to work. But there is, from what I’ve experienced, no way to completely get rid of PTSD, and certainly not if you continue working in the field where it was caused in the first place.’

Blue Light Programme

In October 2014, Mind was awarded LIBOR funding to deliver a programme to provide mental health support for emergency services staff and volunteers from police, fire, ambulance and search and rescue services across England up until 31 March 2016.

The Blue Light Programme focused on five main areas: tackling stigma and discrimination, embedding workplace wellbeing, building resilience of staff, providing information and support, and improving support pathways.

So far the programme has seen 250 000 information resources disseminated, 5 000 managers participate in line manager training, over 400 emergency services staff register to be ‘Blue Light Champions’, and 54 blue light employers and 9 national associations sign the Blue Light Time to Change pledge—a commitment to raising awareness of mental health, tackling stigma and helping enable staff and volunteers to talk more openly about their mental health at work. Currently, all ambulance services in England except East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust have signed the pledge.

Funds have been allocated for Mind to continue to deliver the programme on a smaller scale throughout 2016/17.

Esmail Rifai, 50, is a clinical safety officer for North West Ambulance Service NHS Trust, who recently returned to work following a long period of work-related anxiety and depression. He lost a work colleague and friend to suicide.

‘My colleague taking his own life had a devastating effect on me at a time when I was coming to terms with my own mental health,’ he says.

‘At work I often take on more than time permits, which inevitably takes its toll and ultimately ends up with my own mental health deteriorating.’

Rifai is a ‘Blue Light Champion’ and has found the experience helpful in coming to terms with his own mental health issues. ‘Being involved with the Blue Light Programme has also given me some solace,’ he says. ‘Knowing that I’m helping others in itself makes me feel good—a sense of achievement.’

Exposure to shocking events

Project M (3)Dan Farnworth is an EMT for North West Ambulance Service NHS Trust who has also suffered from PTSD.

‘My mental health issues started about a year and a half ago,’ he says. ‘We went to a job that involved child abuse. It was awful. We did everything that we could, but unfortunately we weren’t able to save the child.’

While Farnworth understandably felt low after the job, it wasn’t until 24 hours later that he found himself unable to shake the image of the child from his head.

‘At work I wasn’t acting like myself anymore; I wasn’t socialising as much with colleagues, and generally not interacting with people.’

In addition to his work, he found the event had begun to affect his life at home as well.

‘It made me a grumpier person, and my patience was a lot shorter. It even started to affect my sleep, and I found myself having nightmares about it.

‘I’d often find myself just sat there, not really doing anything but thinking about the job, and thinking about whether there was anything else I could have done.’

The nature of work undertaken by ambulance services means there are times when paramedics find themselves turning up at the scene of a shocking or upsetting event.

‘As a paramedic there is no way to avoid seeing sights that are difficult,’ says Myers. ‘It may be one shocking call, or it may be a build up over time, but I believe we are all affected in some way by the things we see, by the emotion we experience but are forced to contain while dealing with our job. Showing any sign of emotion is still perceived as a weakness rather than an outlet, and this is one of the things that needs to change.’

Kevin Sibley is an EMT for East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust who served 8 years within the army. A year of that time was spent in Northern Ireland where he witnessed a number of harrowing events. He remains unconvinced at the prevalence of mental health problems suffered by ambulance staff.

‘I have known people who have left the ambo service and have come back 6 months later after querying suffering mental problems,’ he says.

‘Unfortunately I think lots of people use the mental health card in the ambo. PTSD in the military is not an excuse, it’s because your mates who will die for you are killed in a horrible situation. Unfortunately I can’t compare this to the ambo service as we join to help people in road traffic collisions (RTC) etc. You [can] walk in to a hanging, RTC or decapitation.’

Sibley is of the opinion that some paramedics are quick to associate distressing events with potential mental health issues, with some reaching for the latest buzz word to explain how they are feeling.

‘I don’t mean to belittle people with issues but we were unwell,’ he says. ‘Not dealing with it, then stress, then depression. People looked for a new thing, a new name, and grabbed PTSD.’

Support for ambulance staff

Currently, ambulance services have internal debriefing support services, and through occupational health staff have access to professional counselling services. Additionally, support is provided to ambulance service staff and their families by The Ambulance Services Charity (TASC).

‘Most people will normally feel some levels of stress throughout their day—the fight or flight model enables us to cope with difficult situations,’ says Jean Hayes, director of support services for TASC. ‘However, prolonged levels of stress can sometimes have a negative impact on health and wellbeing. For some ambulance personnel, constant and increasing exposure to difficult situations may result in poor health.’

Hayes explains how since its launch in March 2015, TASC have been approached by a number of ambulance personnel suffering from low mood, stress-related illness and undiagnosed PTSD, many of whom remain in work providing a dedicated service to the general public.

As a result, the charity is currently developing a programme of support for individuals, working with a leading psychologist, which will enable ambulance personnel to recognise their own symptoms and develop strategies to help manage poor mental health.

‘Subject to funding, TASC aim to roll out this programme of work nationwide,’ says Hayes. ‘Along with other support services, TASC are here to support those working in the UK ambulance services, whenever they are facing unexpected difficulties, crisis or are in need.’

The College of Paramedics has been working closely with Mind over recent months, and is an active participant in the blue light mental health agenda nationally, along with the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives (AACE).

According to David Davis, paramedic and fellow of the College of Paramedics, the College has recognised the importance of the mental health and wellbeing of paramedics and other ambulance and pre-hospital professionals for a number of years. These include significant concerns around what many feel is an unachievable retirement age of 68, significant changes in working practices and increased workloads resulting in increased isolation of practitioners, as well as concerns over violence and aggression towards emergency services workers.

‘The research undertaken by Mind, as part of the Blue Light Programme, has reinforced anecdote with real meaningful data about the level of problems, and importantly revealed that many frontline staff were not keen on being open about mental ill health and stress for fear of either embarrassment or adverse consequences from employers or otherwise,’ says Davis.

‘The most recent data was very worrying indeed,’ he adds. ‘Particularly that 35% of those ambulance staff completing the online survey had contemplated taking their own lives.

‘There is increasing awareness of the risk of suicide among paramedics and other emergency ambulance service personnel that simply cannot be ignored, and the recent data from the Mind survey tells us that actions must be taken now to support and protect this important group of public servants.’

Davis, who is spokesperson on mental health for the College of Paramedics, goes on to highlight that the recent College of Paramedics conference revealed a clearly expressed mandate to make mental health of the membership a priority and to support the Mind programme.

‘A single suicide of one of the brave men or women who I am proud to call my colleagues is a tragedy too many,’ says Davis. ‘We must work together to tackle the issues of mental ill health, whether they be stress, depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder.’

The AACE is one of the national associations signed up to the Mind Blue Light Time to Change pledge and were fully engaged in the Blue Light Programme throughout its initial duration. According to Anna Parry, national programme manager for the AACE, the association is continuing to benefit from the work undertaken by Mind, with the Time to Change Programme Manager contributing to ongoing work the AACE is overseeing to promote and enhance the mental health and wellbeing of staff. At the national level, the AACE is collating information and data in this area to better understand what more can be done to support ambulance service staff.

‘The sector feels that there is more that could and should be done to fight mental health stigma and discrimination and to enhance the supports that are available to staff in this area,’ says Parry.

‘The mental health and wellbeing of staff subsequently features in the AACEs 2016–17 strategic priorities; these are identified and progressed by ambulance services nationally,’ she adds.

Removing the stigma

Project M (4)Farnworth believes that with ever increasing demand on the ambulance service, there is not as much opportunity for discussion and reflection between jobs anymore.

‘When staff attend a particularly traumatic job, they are offered some “time out” but many staff don’t take this up when they know there are patients out there waiting for our help,’ he says.

‘As much as we look out for each other, there is still a bravado or “stigma” attached with this job; we all like to think we are infallible. We are there to support the public in [their] time of need, but we tend to not ask for help ourselves.’

‘Talking to my peers has also been a massive help,’ says Farnworth. ‘It helps me realise that what I’m going through is normal, and that many people experience things like this from time to time.’

This sentiment is something that Myers finds he can also relate to:

‘The first piece of advice I would give would be “do not be ashamed”. It took me a long time to admit both to myself and to those around me that there was something wrong. There is still a stigma attached to mental health issues, particularly PTSD, in a field where it is expected that you just get on with the job, that prevents people from seeking help. A first-line defence must be to talk, be it to a colleague, a friend or a relative, or, if the need arises, to a medical professional who will be able to give guidance with reference to the right course of treatment if required.

‘Don’t be afraid to seek help. Because the subject up until very recently was taboo, it was not well known how and where to seek help, but I believe that it’s slowly improving.’

Rifai also believes that stigma surrounding mental health should be removed: ‘There is no shame or stigma attached to experiencing mental health problems, it’s just the same as breaking a bone, except no one can see that you are suffering. We are not super humans and we are just as prone to illness as anyone else, if not more.’

Blue Light Walk

To help raise awareness of mental health problems within the blue light community and get emergency service personnel talking, Farnworth has teamed up with Richard Morton, paramedic; Philip Baggaley, senior paramedic; and Gill Despard, paramedic lecturer practitioner, to walk from Scarborough RNLI to Blackpool RNLI stopping at fire, police and ambulance stations along the way. They will be raising money for the Blue Light Programme.

The walk will take place from 26–30 September and they are inviting all emergency services, as well as the general public, to join them on the ‘last leg’ from Broughton ambulance station to Blackpool RNLI. Additionally, they are putting on a Blue Light Walk Charity Ball to celebrate the success of the walk on 1 October. If you would like to support their cause or join them then visit http://www.bluelightwalk.com.

Has your mental health been affected as a result of working for the ambulance service? If so, Journal of Paramedic Practice would like to hear from you. Email jpp@markallengroup.com

Taken from Journal of Paramedic Practice, published 6 May 2016.

College of Paramedics sees 42% increase in membership

Membership of the College of Paramedics has increased by 42% from 2nd January 2015 to 1st January 2016, according to figures published in the Trustees’ Annual Report.

The College of Paramedics now has a total of 8,948 members, up from 6,296 announced last year, it has been revealed.

“The College of Paramedics has had a year of exceptional growth and success in 2015,” said Andy Newton, chair of the Trustee Board. “The College now has a membership of almost 9,000 and has grown both its staff and pool of expertise to enable it to continue forward.”

As of January 2016 there were 6,458 full members of the College of Paramedics. This represents 29.7% of all paramedic registrants of the Health and Care Professions Council, the regulatory body for the paramedic profession.

Additionally, student members saw a 42% increase from 1,274 in 2015 to 1,810 in 2016. Associate members saw a 25% increase from 545 in 2015 to 680 members in 2016.

It is believed the enhanced medical malpractice and public liability insurance cover offered as a benefit to full members attributed to the increase in full members over the course of the year.

Improvements in the communications to members, including the College newsletter, a revised website and the creation of a regular members’ news digest email, is also thought to have played a part.

The increase in members show the College is one step closer to its aim of becoming a Royal College, which requires that 50% of the profession are members of the professional body. This comes after the College achieved one of the other requirements by being awarded registered charity status in early 2016.

“With 30% of all registered paramedics now members of the College, we are rapidly approaching the position whereby such an application could become a reality within the next few years,” said Newton.