Unite, the UK and Ireland’s largest union which has over 100,000 workers in the NHS including thousands of paramedics is warning that unprecedented demand is resulting in the ‘wheels being on the verge of falling off’ the ambulance service.

Stark warning

Unite is further warning that if the UK experiences a flu epidemic or a prolonged period of cold winter weather the service will not be able to cope.

Unite paramedics report a series of problems which have dramatically increased the stress on the service in the last 12 months, which is placing it in crisis.

Turnaround times

The biggest problem concerns ambulance turnaround times at hospitals. In extreme cases ambulance crews report that they have had to care for patients in an ambulance for 12 hours and in some cases for 18 hours before they were transferred to the hospital.

Ambulance drivers report that huge amounts of their working time is being lost, often on a daily basis in the delays of transferring patients to hospitals.

Special measures

In some trusts to cut turnaround times paramedics are being taken out of ambulances and used as Hospital Ambulance Liaison Officers (HALOs) and required to look after up to six patients, often for several hours, before they are admitted to hospital.

A further delay is caused by some hospitals only having the same number of trolleys as cubicles in a ward, which prevents the ambulance from transferring a patient until a trolley is vacated.

Lack of ambulances

A further problem is caused by some ambulance trusts only operating the minimum number of vehicles resulting in crews frequently starting their shifts but not being able to respond to calls as no vehicles are available, as another crews is still using the vehicle.

In many trusts Unite members report that a lack of maintenance and elderly vehicles is putting further pressure on the service. Many vehicles have between 300,000–400,000 on the clock and frequently breakdown and are off the road. A problem made worse by a lack of mechanics in many trusts.

Unite believes that the strain on the ambulance service will not be relieved until additional resources are invested in other areas of the NHS such as the GP service and social care.

Wheels falling off

Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said: “This is a stark warning that the wheels are in danger of falling off the ambulance service.

“Delays in responding to patients are increasing as demand increases and delays mount up, which is placing patients in danger.

“As other sectors in the NHS buckle under the strain of demand, the ambulance service does not just become an essential service it becomes a service of last resort for the sick.

“Our members in Unite are now warning that the service is already operating at its maximum capacity and if there is a spell of bad weather or a flu epidemic the service will collapse.

“Measures being put in place to cut turnaround times are disturbing and potentially dangerous.

“In the short term all ambulance trusts must ensure they have sufficient vehicles and that they keep them on the road.

“The problems facing the ambulance service are a direct consequence of the long-term underfunding of the entire NHS and until those issues are fixed the crisis in the ambulance service will not be resolved.”


Notes to editors:

For more information please contact Unite senior communications officer Barckley Sumner on 020 3371 2067 or 07802 329235. Email: barckley.sumner@unitetheunion.org

  • Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.