HAMPSHIRE’S ambulance service is battling to fill hundreds of frontline vacancies as the NHS struggles to cope with the winter health crisis.

South Central Ambulance Service (SCAS) has revealed it is short of 250 key personnel – 110 paramedics and 145 other ambulance crew.

It is also facing a shortage of clinicians, call-takers and staff who run the non-emergency patient transport service.

About 14 per cent of posts across the service are vacant and this coincides with 999 calls hitting record levels and the worst flu outbreak for seven years.

Health service unions claim that ambulance staff are quitting due to “intolerable” pressures including long shifts that can over-run by two hours.

Sky-high property prices in Hampshire and other parts of the south are also thought to be a factor.

Sarah Carpenter, head of health at the union Unite, said a new pay deal for paramedics announced recently would help tackle staff shortages.

But she added: “It’s not just about the money.

“Older paramedics, who have protected pensions, are voting with their feet because they have simply had enough.

“In some ambulance services there are reports of long, busy shifts, late or non-existent meal breaks and continuing levels of sickness due to anxiety and stress.”

Christina McAnea, Unison’s head of health, added: “With crews stretched far too thinly, the pressures on staff are intolerable.

“Many experienced paramedics are leaving in search of less stressful jobs which don’t take such a toll on their health and home lives. The result is delays, with many ambulances taking too long to reach patients with life-threatening conditions.”

A SCAS spokesman said the service was continuing use private providers to fill frontline gaps.

He added: “Like any large organisation we always have people who are either leaving or retiring. Some of our staff are also getting roles elsewhere in the NHS.”

Last year it was revealed that the service was spending more on private ambulances than any other trust in the country.

Human resources manager Victoria Dooley said: “With demand continuing to rise, we’re looking for a wide range of people to help us continue to grow and keep delivering high-quality healthcare.”

Melanie Saunders, head of human resources, said the growing number of choices available to ambulance service personnel was contributing to the shortage.

“Fifteen years ago a paramedic would start and finish their career with us in the trust but now they can work in minor injury units and GP surgeries,” she said.

SCAS, which covers Hampshire and three other counties, has a total of 350 vacancies and is held a recruitment open day yesterday. 

SCAS is one of three ambulance trusts that have been awarded a share of £5 million to develop into world-class digital organisations.

Over the next two years, SCAS will receive an additional £1.7 million from NHS England, which the Trust will match fund, to continue its pioneering work in digital transformation.

Innovations already implemented by SCAS include clinical patient management systems and an electronic patient record system.

Vince Weldon, associate director of information management and technology at SCAS, said: “We will see enhanced use of our vehicles as digital hubs, improved forecasting and planning based on the use of wide ranging data, and direct access for our clinicians to shared and current care information.

“All this will improve our ability still further to provide the right care, first time to the people we serve.”