Retiring paramedic claims Ely loses out to Cambridge as ambulance service struggles to fund cover

Steve Howard, from Ely, retired after 38 years with the East of England Ambulance Service.

Steve Howard, from Ely, retired after 38 years with the East of England Ambulance Service. - Credit: Archant

Paramedics based in Ely can be so pre-occupied handling calls in Cambridge that the city is often left without an ambulance for days at a time – according to a former paramedic.

Stephen Segasby

Stephen Segasby - Credit: Archant

Steve Howard, who was based at Ely ambulance station for five years, said that the ambulance was regularly called away from Ely to attend calls in Cambridge first thing in the morning and, on some days, it would not return from there until the end of its shift at night.

Mr Howard, 65, said that when a specialist paramedic car based in Ely was not in use there was often nobody within several miles of Ely to respond to calls, sometimes leaving patients relying on volunteer first responders while an ambulance was located.

He retired from the East of England Ambulance Service on Thursday after 38 years and called the service “utterly broken”.

He said: “Calls from people in Cambridge suck in ambulances from Ely, Haverhill and other places. Sometimes I don’t see the ambulance for the entire shift.”

Mr Howard joined the now defunct Cambridgeshire Ambulance Service as an ambulance technician in 1976 and became an accident and emergency manager for the East Anglian Ambulance Service in the 1990s.

When the accident and emergency department at Ely’s Princess of Wales Hospital was closed, he was part of a team which looked into the impact the move would have on ambulance cover in East Cambridgeshire.

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He said that, at the time, it was decided that Ely would need two ambulances based in the city 24 hours a day to cover the impact of the closure.

But, since then, he says funding for the ambulances has diminished, leaving just one ambulance for a rapidly expanding city.

He said the money that used to be spent on a second ambulance for Ely was instead “diverted away from the frontline service to create a huge number of additional middle and senior managers supported by an army of overpaid jobsworths”.

Stephen Segasby, senior locality manager for South Cambridgeshire, said the ambulance service was going through an unprecedented period of change and restructure and said many of the issues raised by Mr Howard were beginning to be addressed.

He said: “This is a great period of change in many ways. The pressure that is on the service is well documented, and not just on ambulances in Ely, but in the whole health service, and what we need to look into is how we can deal with that.

“It is a very complex situation. It is not just a case of having an ambulance in Ely all the time, it is a cause of how do we best use the ambulance so we can get to the life-threatening calls as quickly as possible.”

Mr Segasby said the pace of change in the service was high and that a real effort was being made by Dr Marsh to cut down on the layers of management.

He added: “There is a lot less management at senior level now and there has been a greater focus on recruiting paramedics and improving training.”

In Ely’s case, Mr Segasby acknowledged that dealing with calls in Cambridge did take up a considerable amount of resource, but he said arrangements were being made so that cover could be more easily arranged from across the border in Norfolk.

He also agreed that closer working with an out-of-hours GP service would help take pressure off paramedics in a year which had seen a “big increase” in the amount of calls received by the service.

He said: “We have seen a big increase calls this year and we are working hard to manage that demand.”