A DIRE shortage of paramedics in Cumbria was a key concern for government health inspectors as they concluded the region's ambulance service 'requires improvement'.

A team of experts from the Care Quality Commission inspected the North West Ambulance Service in May last year before returning to carry out a surprise visit in June.

In a report published for the first time today, they rated the service as 'requiring improvement' overall, though they found it was 'good' for effectiveness, safety and responsiveness.

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During their visit to the area, the team concluded the rate of staff turnover in Cumbria, with paramedic vacancy rates of 16 per cent in some areas, is too high.

The chief inspector of hospitals, Professor Sir Mike Richards, said: "This was a particular issue in Cumbria.

"The trust was aware that the recruitment of additional staff was a managerial challenge and was using a number of initiatives to manage this deficit such as the employment of paramedics from other countries.

"This is a busy ambulance service which receives over 1.3 million 999 calls each year with emergency crews attending more than 952,000 incidents.

"At the time of our visit, the trust had been experiencing challenges around the recruitment of staff, but it had recognised this and was taking action with regard to it."

NWAS, which provides ambulance cover for Cumbria, Lancashire, Greater Manchester and Cheshire, has already employed 35 new paramedics from Europe to fill vacant positions.

Of these, two are working in Cumbria.

There are now plans to recruit a further 36 with 24 to be located within the county.

Relocation packages are also to be considered by NWAS bosses, the report explains, as an additional enticement for qualified paramedics who accept positions within the area.

Prof Sir Mike Richards added: "It is vital that a busy service like NWAS has sufficient numbers of staff with the requisite knowledge and skills to meet patients' needs and we will be monitoring the trust's progress in securing additional staff as a matter of priority."

Other concerns picked up by the CQC team included some ambulances not receiving a deep clean as often as they should, while there was also a failure to keep vehicle records up to date.

In addition, the inspectors found not all staff had time to report incidents and near misses in their line of duty while also noting that patient complaints were not handled as efficiently as should be expected.

Prof Sir Richards said further inspections will take place to monitor the ambulance service's progress.

"The trust is working against a backdrop of increased pressure on all of its services and, while I am anxious to see the trust continue to monitor and improve staffing levels and share lessons learned from incidents and complaints, I’m confident that the areas of good practice can be maintained and further improvements made."

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