The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock has launched We are the NHS: People Plan for 2020/21. The College of Paramedics welcomes the publication which we believe is long overdue and has now created a renewed urgency and need following six-months of the emergency response to Covid-19.
Looking after our people, belonging in the NHS, and tackling discrimination are all hugely important elements of the Plan. The environment in which they work means that paramedics are often vulnerable and exposed to high levels of risk, a point emphasised during Covid-19 when they drew the analogy of the `canary in the coalmine’, never knowing the underlying condition of patients they were called upon to attend. Paramedic and other ambulance staff were amongst the healthcare casualties of the pandemic. Their lives were dedicated to serving their communities and the value and trust in the paramedic profession by the public has clearly increased. We sincerely hope that the commitments in the People Plan are fully carried through and that all people working in the NHS will continue to feel protected and valued in the future.
The paramedic profession has experienced many challenges over the last decade and has adapted to address growing and changing demand. New ways of working and delivering care, making effective use of the full range of assessment skills and clinical experience, and growing for the future will all be crucial to how the paramedic profession continues to adapt and innovate in these most difficult of times we all find ourselves in.
We welcome the commitments to increasing the wider NHS workforce but also hope that the severe shortages of frontline paramedics will receive special attention both in terms of recruitment and especially retention. Paramedics are now a highly sought-after commodity in numerous health settings which means the crucial issues needs to be looked at beyond the ambulance services which had been the traditional place of employment. Paramedics are not just a mobile emergency workforce; they are the clinical bridge to help the NHS “gain and hold” serious middle ground in the challenge to support the ever-increasing health care needs of communities across the UK.
We believe that it is a positive step, that from January of next year, all NHS posts will be advertised as being available for flexible working patterns. This will be a significant support to the paramedic workforce, many of whom are currently juggling work, family, and study commitments with limited financial support. There are an increasing number of people in society with acute health conditions who will need the skills of a paramedic to identify, manage and prevent complications and support definitive pathways of care.
Therefore, it is extremely important that there is equity of financial investment in the paramedic workforce throughout England’s health and social care system. It is time that paramedics received the same equity of financial support offered to other AHPs and nurses. To ensure this, the commitments in the Plan need to be backed up with the reintroduction of full bursaries to cover undergraduate studies and associated costs. The cost of a bursary could be reimbursed by ensuring that graduates work in the NHS for a minimum of two years post-graduation, as is the case in Wales.
The general commitments made in the Plan will help paramedic recruitment and retention provided they translate into: inclusion in a supportive bursary scheme, something which paramedic students have never enjoyed; an expansion of clinical placements, both in the ambulance services and especially beyond, including midwifery, social care and mental health; and; flexible working, with a changed approach needed in the NHS ambulance sector. Importantly, supporting the ongoing stressors and the mental health and wellbeing of those working in emergency and urgent care will play a large part in retaining paramedics.
The College of Paramedics welcomes the Plan’s commitment to Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) and the opportunity to support and influence greater representation of BAME colleagues within the paramedic profession and throughout the NHS. There now needs to be thoughtful and careful consideration of the ongoing pressures that will be faced by the paramedic profession and their colleagues throughout the NHS as competing aspects of Covid-19 and reformed emergency care take shape. Paramedics and others in the NHS are hugely committed to providing the best services possible to patients and their families. The importance of them feeling valued and cared for cannot be overstated and that means that the NHS needs to be a better place to work, with improved conditions, regard for their safety and wellbeing, and properly remunerated.
Our final comment is straightforward. The People Plan needs to be followed up quickly by details on how it will be funded and by when.