CONTROVERSIAL staffing plans which sparked threats of industrial action against Great Western Ambulance Service are part of a plan to guarantee every patient is treated by a paramedic when they dial 999.

That is the message from GWAS, which claims that patients in Swindon and Wiltshire will be among the first in the country to be assured treatment by a paramedic when they call an ambulance.

The organisation is investing more than £2 million over the next three years to provide foundation degree training for its ambulance technicians and emergency care assistants that will see them become registered paramedics, thus ensuring that every vehicle responding to an emergency will have a paramedic on board.

GWAS medical director Dr Ossie Rawstorne said: “A paramedic on every vehicle has long been an aspiration of ambulance services nationally. GWAS is leading the way on achieving that.”

The Adver reported yesterday that the Unison union was angry at GWAS employing 230 emergency care assistants, claiming the role was ‘not fit for purpose’.

ECAs are trained to provide essential life-saving skills but their main role is to assist the registered paramedic at the scene of an incident. If the patient needs to go to hospital, the ECA’s role is also to drive the ambulance, ensuring the paramedic can continue providing clinical care en route.

Dr Rawstorne added: “The model of a registered clinician supported by a care assistant has worked well in other parts of the NHS for many years.”

While the ECA role will continue, the similar position of ambulance technician is being phased out.

GWAS is looking to re-train its 200 technicians to become paramedics during a 44-week foundation degree course.

To date, 155 technicians have signed up for the course, with the first 50 already training. There will also be the chance for ECAs to progress and train as a paramedic as part of a new, four-year degree course. The first 25 ECAs have already begun that course while in the future GWAS envisages a quarter of ECA staff will enrol each year.

Dr Rawstorne said: “A paramedic can offer patients a higher level of immediate clinical care, including being able to administer additional medication. The investment we are making in training will mean that the vast majority of our operational staff will be registered clinical professionals.”