Ambulance staff ‘unable to drive’ new vehicles due to height and shape

·2-min read
An East of England Ambulance is driven along the road in Cambridge (PA)
An East of England Ambulance is driven along the road in Cambridge (PA)

Staff at an ambulance service have said they are unable to drive a £54m fleet of new vehicles due to their height or body shape.

Documents obtained by the BBC show that 160 employees at the East of England Ambulance Service (EEAST) have struggled to use the converted Fiat Ducatos, which replaced a fleet of ageing Mercedes vans.

Of the complainants, 94 said they were not able to drive the vehicles and had also experienced back pain. Others complained of limited space for their legs and not being able to see properly out of the windscreen.

One emergency medical technician told the broadcaster: “I was told that anyone over 5ft 9in (1.75m) would be unable to drive it as they would not be able to achieve a comfortable and safe driving position.

“I did try to get into the driver’s seat but I couldn’t adjust the seat to allow me to operate the pedals properly and the steering wheel was pressed against my legs, making it difficult to steer safely.”

They also claimed there had been long delays when attempting to book an alternative vehicle before starting a shift.

Other members of staff using the vehicles complained of its pedals being too close together, hands becoming trapped between the sliding doors and the engine cutting out as the vehicle moved over potholes or speed bumps.

A spokesperson for EEAST told the BBC it was aware of the issues and was “working to address them”.

The Ducatos were rolled out nationwide in response to a 2019 report calling for ambulance services to use a standardised vehicle, stocked with the same equipment and medicines.

The report, authored by Lord Carter of Coles, said it was “simply unacceptable that trusts purchase different ambulances and stock them with different equipment and medicines”.

It added: “This demonstrably increases costs and there is an unarguable case to develop a common specification across England and move rapidly to centralised procurement for the ambulance fleet.”

An EEAST spokesperson said: “Our new fleet of ambulances was rolled out three years ago following extensive trials with colleagues and consultation with staff, trade unions, patients and carer groups.

“Since the rollout a small number of colleagues raised concerns about the cab area, which is the same as the current national ambulance specification.

“We have been working to address these issues – which affect a small proportion of our colleagues – through assessment by an independent ergonomist to identify potential modifications to the vehicles.

“We have also retained some of our older Mercedes fleet for staff who are unable to drive the Fiat ambulances, and we are exploring further options for a more permanent solution.”

The Standard has contacted EEAST for further comment.

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