Highly-trained ambulance paramedics are being swapped for £12,000-a-year first aiders to answer 999 calls.
The new emergency medics receive only a few weeks training – paramedics train for three years – and are not allowed to give life-saving drugs, critics have claimed.
But they are being used by all NHS ambulance trusts and the money-saving measure puts lives at risk, say unions.
When the first aiders – known as emergency care assistants – were introduced four years ago, they were only meant to ease the burden on paramedics by driving ambulances and wheeling patients in to hospital.
Now they find themselves on the front line – in charge of patients suffering heart attacks, chest pains and breathing problems.
Ambulance services across Britain are increasingly turning to the first aiders as they phase out skilled ambulance technicians in a bid to meet NHS cost cuts, in the region of £50million each over three years, says the GMB.
The public are being misled into thinking paramedics answer 999 calls when, in fact, they get someone who has no more than advanced first aid skills, claims the union’s spokesman Tony Hughes.
He said: ‘The ECAs don’t have the skills of a paramedic or a technician. They’re embarrassed when they go to 999 calls they can’t handle.’
Shadow health minister Andrew Gwynne added:
‘Ministers need to make sure ambulances have properly paid and trained paramedics.’
A Department of Health spokesman said local NHS services were ‘best placed to ensure the services provided meet the needs of the local population’.
This article appeared in the Metro newspaper.