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East of England Ambulance Service ordered to pay £49,000 in wrongful dismissal case

East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust has been ordered to pay over £49,000 in a wrongful dismissal case which involved a veteran paramedic who was assaulted by an intoxicated 14-year-old patient and who was later dismissed for allegedly “assaulting” the teenager.

Peter Edwards, a senior paramedic with the Trust for 18 years, was dismissed in February 2022 on the grounds of “gross misconduct for physically assaulting a patient.” 

An employment tribunal has now overruled this decision, ordering the Trust to pay Mr Edwards £49,314.66 in compensation.

The incident dates back to August 2021, when Mr Edwards, while on a night shift, was attending to a call involving a 14-year-old male patient who was reported to have consumed an excessive amount of alcohol. 

As Mr Edwards was securing the patient to a trolley for transport to West Suffolk Hospital, the patient struck him on the upper lip and nose. 

Edwards’ “instantaneous reflex reaction” was to protect himself from further blows from the patient.

Procedural unfairness resulted in wrongful dismissal

The tribunal found that the subsequent suspension and dismissal were a result of procedural unfairness. 

The Trust had failed to notify Mr Edwards of a testimonial witness and, more crucially, overlooked that he had merely defended himself against an assault.

Escalating violence against paramedics involves verbal abuse followed by physical assault

This unsettling case comes at a time when assaults against ambulance staff have alarmingly spiked. 

The Association of Ambulance Chief Executives (AACE) reports a staggering 1,387 assaults on East of England Ambulance Service (EEAST) staff over the last 12 months, a significant rise of 23% from the previous year.

The most prevalent form of assault is verbal abuse, closely followed by physical assault. 

Such attacks have profound consequences on ambulance staff, causing physical injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder and even prompting them to abandon their jobs.

“There is an urgent need to safeguard ambulance staff”

The AACE has emphasised the urgent need to do more to safeguard ambulance staff from such violence and aggression. 

As the Edwards case glaringly illustrates, it’s high time to revisit and revise policies and practices to ensure ambulance personnel are adequately protected while fulfilling their crucial duty to the public.

An East of England Ambulance Service spokesman said: “We respect the outcome of the Employment Tribunal, which was not in agreement with our decision to dismiss the now ex-employee.  

“We have decided not to appeal the outcome after reflecting on the findings and have identified some lessons to be learned procedurally.   

“The safety of our patients is a top priority for the Trust and every allegation against a staff member around professional conduct with patients is investigated thoroughly.” 

East of England Ambulance Service “requires improvement”

Further exacerbating the challenges faced by the East of England Ambulance Service (EEAST) is a beleaguered senior management team currently grappling with significant internal issues.

EEAST’s performance has been consistently poor compared to other ambulance services across England. 

The Care Quality Commission (CQC), an independent regulator of health and social care in England, rated EEAST as “requires improvement” in 2022. 

This rating indicates a failure to meet the expected standards of care and service provision.

“Serious and widespread” culture of bullying and harassment

A troubling culture of bullying and harassment within EEAST has also come to light. 

A 2021 independent review exposed a “serious and widespread” issue with such behaviours within the service.  The CQC has also criticised EEAST’s lack of transparency. 

In their 2022 findings, the CQC stated that EEAST failed to provide “sufficient information” regarding its performance to patients and staff. 

Compounding these issues is a high staff turnover rate, which stood at a worrying 17% in 2022. 

This figure is considerably higher than the national average of 9%, suggesting a significant level of dissatisfaction among EEAST’s workforce. 

High turnover rates can lead to staff shortages, overworked remaining staff, and potentially compromised patient care.

The CQC identified “serious and widespread” weaknesses in leadership and a failure to learn from previous errors. The CQC and EEAST’s workforce have echoed the pressing need for change.

(Source: Emergency Services News)

(Image: EEAS Ambulance by Chris Sampson, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

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