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'Grave concerns' over police being asked to drive ambulances

National Chair Steve Hartshorn has shared his 'grave concern' at members being asked to drive ambulances during upcoming strike action on December 21.

The National Chair of the Police Federation has warned that the pressure on policing to plug gaps in the public sector is taking its toll on officers, many of whom are already exhausted "after a tumultuous year".

Steve Hartshorn confirmed that Fed members have been asked to drive ambulances during upcoming industrial action, which will see drivers from 10 of the 11 trusts in England and Wales go on strike on December 21.

He said: "At a time when the thin blue line is overstretched and under pressure like never before, this request gives me grave concern for the welfare of our members."

Acknowledging the frustrations which have led to ambulance drivers taking action, policing's inability to do the same sees the service "step in as a last resort to ensure public safety when others strike".

This concerns the Chair for a number of reasons, including the fact that officers are not ambulance drivers or qualified paramedics.

He said: "I have genuine concern for any officer who may be exposed to medical emergencies they are not qualified to act on. The human consequences are awful to imagine, but we must consider the legal responsibilities and practicalities too.

"Should a patient die in the presence of a police officer, or within a period of time of being with a police officer, that officer is referred to the Independent Office for Police Conduct for investigation."

Arguing that officers driving ambulances "may make sensible to some", Mr Hartshorn stressed that those who do would be taken away from their police duties. 

The pressures of non-policing work are not new, nor is the reality of police officers stepping into the role of ambulance drivers.

Just last month, the head of public protection for Gloucestershire Constabulary warned that using police cars as ambulances had become a "normalised process".

Humberside is one of few forces that has managed to separate this relationship, though this has required a concerted effort - spearheaded by its Chief Constable, Lee Freeman.

This extra burden was highlighted in the NPCC's reaction to the request.

In a statement that "encouraged" the Fed Chair, Assistant Chief Constable Owen Weatherill, National Mobilisation coordinator, said: “Policing must ensure it can deliver its own core business.

"Police officers already deal with issues from existing ambulance attendance times, often related to mental health incidents.

"Preservation of life will always be policing’s number one priority and that has not changed. The demands on policing are significant and it is vital that we deliver our own priorities to protect the public and catch criminals first.”

Acknowledging the importance of preserving life, Mr Hartshorn added: "First and foremost is our duty to ensure we have the capability to deliver our core service, something that at present is a struggle across all forces."

Branches have told the Fed that they are "running minimum staffing levels for their patrols", with some not even able to fill the minimum staffing requirements.

The Chair continued: "Things are so bad, we are told by those on the frontline, that rest days are being cancelled up to six months in advance.

"Adding more pressure over the coming weeks as we are asked to pick up extra work outside of traditional policing, moves us ever closer towards a tipping point."

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