AMBULANCE service bosses charged with making savings came under fire last night for spending thousands of pounds on iPods.
The North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) has bought classic iPods for 90 team leaders across the region at a cost of £120 each, a total outlay of £10,800.
The service says the iPods allow staff to be trained via podcasts, rather than having to travel around the region to attend teaching sessions, allowing them more time with patients.
But the expense has outraged one councillor in Northumberland, at a time when the service has been tasked with making £14m in savings over the next three years.
Steven Bridgett, who represents Rothbury, is angry that the service is forking out for the music players just three years after axing his village’s ambulance station and replacing it with a community paramedic in a perceived cost cutting measure.
Coun Bridgett discovered the iPod purchases and the savings target in a response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request in which he has also unearthed what he calls "dangerous" and "alarming" gaps in the region’s ambulance cover.
He said: "I can remember several years ago now when the ambulance service decided they were going to downgrade the service provided in Rothbury from an ambulance vehicle to a community paramedic in a van, which both shocked and worried a lot of residents in my area who felt the service was cost cutting at the risk of lives.
"Clearly the ambulance service has far greater funds than what was originally thought if it can make such lavish expenditures on items such as iPods given the fact they know they have to make nearly £14m pounds in savings over the next three years.
"I think this is another example of quite frankly stupid spending from a publicly-funded body that the taxpayer has a right to know about."
In its response to Coun Bridgett, an NEAS spokesman said: "The trust has over 60 locations between Berwick and Teesside and prior to the issue of these iPods, staff were required to attend training sessions (usually hosted at our training centres at Northumberland and Durham).
"The use of iPods, however, gives us the ability to roll-out some education via ‘podcasts’ without the need to travel such distances which means that staff are able to spend more time caring for patients."
The service says the podcasts allow staff to update themselves with clinical practices which they perform infrequently, at a time convenient to them.
It also says there are no plans to give iPods to all staff and that they are not for personal use. No music can be downloaded and agreements have been signed to this effect.
In the response to his FOI request, Coun Bridgett was also given details of every call-out in north Northumberland between September and November – a total of 3,016.
The document shows that on September 7, a life-threatening emergency in Berwick was responded to by an ambulance from Blucher, on the outskirts of Newcastle. On the same day, another category A emergency in Alnwick was responded to by an another ambulance from Blucher, roughly 38 miles away.
There were also instances of ambulances responding to urgent emergencies from Belford to Morpeth, Hexham to Morpeth and Ashington to Berwick.
The Ambulance Service said that 75% of category A incidents are responded to within the eight-minute standard time.
It added the service operates a system of "dynamic cover" which means vehicles are strategically placed to ensure optimum cover when an ambulance is deployed.