FOUR hundred student paramedics are being recruited directly by the region’s ambulance service because it can’t get enough qualified medics from the universities.

Marcus Bailey, interim consultant paramedic for the East of England Ambulance Service, is heavily involved in recruitment and training staff for the ambulance trust.

In 2009, the Unison union called for an immediate inquiry over what if described as a “terrible situation” – after seven student paramedics had gone out with more senior colleagues on emergency calls.

Five years on, this is now pretty much standard practice in the profession because of a national shortage of paramedics.

Mr Bailey said: “It’s a national issue, not just a local trust issue.

“It’s a case of supply and demand and, at the moment, there are more jobs that have come on the market than there are suitable people coming out of university.

“It’s what’s led most organisations to take the opportunity to develop their own paramedic programmes.

“The plan is always to ensure a full establishment.

“We’re in very different times now and we need to have students out there in the operational setting, because that’s how they will learn.”

Mr Bailey said the term “student paramedic” could be misleading because staff were at various stages of their training and experience.

He stressed this was particularly relevant in the case of Trudy Glenister, the Great Wakering woman, who bled to death as a result of an ectopic pregnancy.

Two unsupervised student paramedics were called to her aid and took 40 minutes to make a decision on what to do to help her.

He said: “Historically, to become a paramedic, you first had to become an ambulance technician, but recently we’ve seen a transition to people becoming paramedics over three years on courses such as the one run by Anglia Ruskin University.

“What happens now is that, at a certain point of time, the knowledge, skills and competence they’ve achieved will be the same as that of an ambulance technician. So in that case, what appears to be two students was, from our point of view, one technician equivalent supervising.

“Our chief executive, Dr Anthony Marsh, has made it very clear he wants a 75 per cent qualified workforce but that’s going to take some time to achieve.”

The trust was also criticised last year for filling just four of 149 vacant paramedic posts. It actually recruited 44 paramedics, but over the period, 40 existing staff moved on.

However, Mr Bailey said this was in line with the nation average staff turnover level in the service. Building up staff numbers was a long-term process.

He said: “Forty is our usual turnover and we would look at it in terms of workforce planning.

“We are now looking to replace 95 to 120 frontline staff out of more than 4,000, so it is quite low in context.”