Ambulance chiefs have been criticised after a shock report found more than 125 frontline staff were not screened for criminal convictions.
An urgent review was launched after the Care Quality Commission (CQC) discovered a huge pool of workers had not been checked for historic offences.
A statement released by the ambulance service confirmed checks carried out since the CQC inspection revealed 57 members had minor criminal convictions.
The CQC report stated: “We established that effective recruitment procedures had not been in place from an unidentified date in 2009. Since that time relevant checks had not been carried out on front line staff either at the time of employment, or on a rolling basis thereafter, in line with the trust’s own policy.
“This meant that since 2009 the trust could not be assured that patients had been cared for by staff who were of good character and suitable for their role.”
North East Ambulance Service chiefs said a risk assessment had been carried out on 54 of those members of staff and they had “all returned to their frontline jobs”.
Of the remaining three staff, two are currently off work for an unrelated issues and the other is on alternative duties until their risk assessment is complete.
Julie Walton, the CQC head of hospital inspections for the North East, said: “The issues we identified are a real concern and we have told the trust where further improvements must be made to ensure patients receive the service they are entitled to expect.
“We will return to check that the necessary changes have been made and that they can be sustained for the future.”
An unannounced inspection carried in February also found there were “shortfalls in human resource governance, complaint management and medication audits”.
But a spokesman for the NEAS said inspectors had praised “staff for their professionalism and respect of patients’ privacy, dignity and independence”.
Simon Featherstone, NEAS chief executive, said: “The findings in this report are disappointing, but I am pleased that our staff have been recognised by the CQC inspectors for the wonderful and caring job they do for our patients.
“The CQC has agreed with my view that this organisation has been ‘running hot’ for some considerable time now, in that we are extremely busy and under increasing demands to achieve performance and quality targets within our financial budgets.
“We recognise that some of the issues highlighted in the inspectors’ report require investment in frontline leadership, which is why we have taken the decision to plan a £1.7m deficit in our budget this year - the first in the Trust’s history – to invest in recruiting team leaders to support the front line.”