Testing delays prevent new starters from obtaining licence to join ambulance service front line

As many as 50 new ambulance staff in the East of England have been unable to start work and drive an ambulance because of hold ups in the testing centres.

But this number is likely to grow if there is further delay, as more of the 200 recruits brought in by the East of East of England Ambulance Service to help during the pandemic enter the final stage of their preparation before being sent out.

There has been significant delay in getting these people onto the front line due to the DVSA not being able to offer enough testing capacity to allow them to do their C1 and blue light driving licence test, which is needed to drive an ambulance.

This is despite requests to prioritise these people to help provide a service in the face of rising demand now that winter and a potential second Covid-19 wave are coming.

It is not known how many people in the country are waiting for similar tests,  though recruits waiting for C1 and blue light licence  tests in the East of England have been waiting for “quite a while”, according to the East of England Ambulance Service.

Learner drivers were able to resume their tests in England from July following a four-month suspension during lockdown.

Around 210,000 tests were cancelled and tens of thousands more were delayed because of the virus, according to the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA).

The DVSA continued to provide NHS and health and social care workers with emergency driving tests, after services were suspended in March to prevent the spread of Covid-19. It has worked closely with a number of ambulance services and their training providers throughout the pandemic to make sure paramedics and ambulance service personnel can book their theory and practical tests as a priority. But the restrictions have meant tests for people looking to drive professionally were postponed.

An East of England Ambulance Service spokesperson said: “The Trust is working closely with our training provider and the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) to book the practical tests our staff need to complete their blue light training course.”

Pressures on ambulance services are likely to increase further during the winter in the face of an increasing spread of Covid-19.

A spokesman for the DVSA said: “DVSA’s priority is to help everyone through a lifetime of safe driving.

“We support all our emergency services in providing tests for their trainee drivers, and we are working with East of England Ambulance Service to ensure its trainees can continue to access driving tests.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter