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Saturday, January 16, 1999 Published at 19:11 GMT


Paramedics could solve NHS staff crisis

Paramedics would be allowed to work in casualty

Paramedics could replace nurses as part of plans to solve the severe staff shortage that has hit the NHS.

Hospital bosses said off-duty medics may be drafted in to the accident and emergency unit at Northwick Park Hospital, Harrow, north-west London, as long as unions and the London Ambulance Service approve the scheme.

"They are ideally suited to take on some of the roles of our nurses," a hospital spokesman said.

Paramedics would take temperatures, blood pressure and even blood samples under plans that will be discussed with staff representatives this week, he said.

The idea comes from casualty staff after recruitment drives in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa failed to fill in staff gaps.

Problems of poor pay and inflexible working conditions have left a 12,000 shortfall of nurses across the country made worse by winter illnesses, the spokesman said.

"We have 15 vacancies from a total of 46 full time nursing staff," he said. "Paramedics are very highly trained and have demonstrable skills, particularly in trauma work."

Unofficial feedback from staff and London Ambulance officials has been encouraging, he added.

Filling in for nurses

If approved, the scheme will see paramedics sign up for the nurses pool, allowing them to be called in for shifts as and when required.

Only one or two will work in the casualty department on any one shift, and they will be under the supervision of a nurse.

All those offered shifts will come from local ambulance stations in Harrow, Wembley and Pinner, where crews have regular contact with the department.

The public sector union Unison will work with managers to make any solution work but the proposals failed to tackle the underlying problem, a spokeswoman said.

"At the heart of the staff shortage is low pay and we want to see rises which will bring more nurses into the NHS and keep them there," she said.

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