Monday 12 March 2012

Just a Personnel Number

"25 year old female, stuck between a rock and a hard place"

Being a relatively new member of staff I'm a 'relief'. This basically means that although I am assigned to an ambulance station, I can be sent to work with anyone, anywhere, without notice. Your shifts change daily and you work a horrible rota. In fact the rota is affectionately known as the 'divorce rota'. That maybe something to do with working 7 out of 10 weekends, mainly lates and nights and having no social life whatsoever. I did two and a half years on the relief rota before I had a change, albeit temporary! I got a 'ghosting' which means I cover a gap on a 'core line' at my ambulance station. I got a permanent crew mate, a permanent rota, less nights, more weekends off and a social life. I knew exactly what I was doing for 6 months in advance. Sadly this has come to an end and I'm back on relief.

As horrible as it is, I think relief work is a good learning tool when you are new. You see different parts of the city and work with so many different people. I don't think it should be pertinent though. It takes a lot out of you physically and emotionally and your rest days end up wasted on sleep. Having to do 9 12 hour shifts in 10 days is a grind. Runs of 5 12 hour night shifts in a row is a killer and working with someone new every day is difficult. You don't get a routine, you end up 'attending' more often than not and end up existing rather than living. The rota itself is not fit for purpose and despite 4 years of promising that it is changing and / or being scrapped nothing has happened. No shock there! Despite it's failings it's seen as part of course. A right of passage if you will. Getting a permanent line is the goal. Having had the same crew mate for 6 months and a constant rota I can testify to it's benefits! It makes such a huge difference knowing who you are working with, knowing you can drive and attend on alternate days, being able to make plans instead of having flexi-weeks where you might or might not be working. Having someone you can rely on, someone who gets how you work and does things without asking. Even having a conversation you can carry on the next day is a big thing. The problem is, like everything, relief work has changed, making it much more of a drag and contrast to those with permanent crew mates. Whereas until a year ago you were on your home station more often than not, occasionally being send off to an adjacent complex, now it's quite the opposite. 

In an attempt to meet targets management (senior, not station) came up with the idea of 'priority complexes'. In areas where call volume is high and concentrated, reliefs are sent to man vehicles there instead of their own area no matter how far away it is. As the percentage of calls meeting targets in that area has a greater impact of the overall target for London, this has continued. It doesn't matter if some areas are neglected because in the big picture of targets they are succeeding. Apparently. As a result though, reliefs in my area are spending weeks on end without ever seeing their home station. Instead they are sent miles and miles away, with no consideration to cost of travel. Mileage can be claimed but you don't get it for at least 2 months and it's a very complex form to fill out. Most don't bother. It has now got to the point where people are being sent 20-30 miles away because that area is the new 'priority'. For me, I've been given my shifts for the next month. I have 2 on my station. That is only 2 that I can cycle to. Instead I have a 75 mile round trip from home to get to work every other shift, most if which will be through rush hour traffic. 

I cannot afford this. I won't go into my financial difficulties but all you need to know is times are hard. I'm barely keeping my head above the water as it is. I've raised this with my union, resources and management. 'Tough' was basically the response I got. It says in my contract that I can be expected to work wherever operational requirements need me to. Obviously this is being abused to its fullest but who am I too argue. I'm just a personnel number. With travel time and a late finish I'm looking at 5 consecutive 16-17 hour days followed by 1 day off then another 4. I'm facing the very real prospect of having to find another job as I simply cannot afford to get to work. It won't be medical work either. Let's not forget, I have no qualifications. As a student paramedic I get no recognised qualifications until I fully qualify as a paramedic. As the final part of my training was cancelled due to 'winter pressures' and then deferred a year due to 'olympic pressures' I have nothing to take with me to another employer. I could be the best part of 4 years down the shitter. It's worth noting that the contract I signed said I would qualify as a Paramedic within the 3 years that the fixed term contract runs. It appears they are allowed to breach their part of the contract but I am not! It's also worth noting that my current, modified, fixed term contract ends just after the Olympics and BEFORE I'm qualified. I'm yet to receive a new one telling me I have a job even if I qualify. The cynic in me tells me to get down the job centre, stat!

In all honesty, I'm gutted. I've given everything to the job. It's a job I love and a job I have made HUGE sacrifices for. My marriage being one of them. It is called the divorce rota for a reason! I came into this seeing it as a career for life. It's a shame that the lack of respect for staff and the way we are treated with utter contempt by resources and management could be putting an end to that. Do resource staff have uncertainty about their rota and financial penalties for being sent from pillar to post? No. Do management have to be abused with 72 hour weeks? No. Do either of them work without proper contracts? No. Just student paramedics then. I don't want to leave, far from it, but if things continue the way they are I'll be one of the 25-30 staff quitting every month. By the way, none of the 400+ staff losses per year are being replaced. None. Why? Ask David Cameron and Nick Clegg. 

To what end will this continue. It is clear, despite the propaganda that patient care is not the priority. Staff wellbeing is an annoyance they have to pretend to do something about when in reality they don't give a crap. How many disillusioned staff have to quit before senior heads roll. If you speak to any EMS they will all tell you the exact same thing.

"It's a great job, I love the job, I work with great people but it's ruined by crap management"

NB: Today, 12th March 2012 I should have started work as a registered Paramedic having completed all my training. Instead I have an 11 month wait, 'operational pressures' pending! There's a morale boost if ever I've seen one. Anyway, got to go, got to give some training to Community First Responders, unpaid and in my own time on a rest day! Seriously! Mug!


  1. My wife, who was also reading this, just told me that that blog post could have been written by me! All I can say is, I feel your pain.

  2. I think no matter what part of the country you work, we are all experiencing similar problems, all I can say is 'Don't let the B******s grind you down' stick it out, it's a great job.

  3. Try with the unions again. It is within you right to report to your base station for your work start and be picked up or take a vehicle out to your assigned starting station. Alternatively point out that the difference in travel time beteen your base station and assigned station is considered working time according to European Working Time Directives. If you've been forced to "opt out" then give your 8 weeks notice of opting back in. Don't let them shaft you.

    I travel 42 miles daily to my base station and can't be arsed paying out in fuel to do overtime. Anytime they try to assign me elsewhere I tell them that my car is not insured for business purposes to go to other stations other than my place of work (they insisted this was the case in order to claim mileage) and therefore I will report to my base and they can decide how I will proceed from there.


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