London ambulances in special measures due to underfunding

Steve Harbord, former London Ambulance Service union rep

London Ambulance Service has become the first in the country to be placed in special measures. Failings have led to the NHS Trust Development Authority taking it over.

England’s chief inspector of hospitals, Professor Sir Mike Richards, says putting the trust in special measures is necessary for improvement. He praised frontline staff as “dedicated, hardworking and compassionate” – but said they “were not being properly supported to do their jobs.”


Inspectors found a culture of bullying, dangerous staff shortages, missing supplies, dirty equipment and terrible response times.

Dave Prentis, general secretary of health union Unison, said: “This is a shocking indictment of the lack of funding that has gone to the ambulance service over the last five years. This is a particular problem in London where demand has soared.”

Well I’ve got news for you, Dave. The service has been underfunded for many years – including under New Labour – and you have done nothing about it. No wonder the staff are as disillusioned with their own union leadership as they are with management.

About ten years ago, I wrote a letter to Ben Bradshaw – then the health secretary – criticising lack of funding.

I received a reply that made no comment on my criticisms, but thoughtfully provided me with the address and phone number of the service I had been working at for twenty years.

The fact is the service will always suffer under the market mentality of Tories and Blairites like Bradshaw. Big business cannot be trusted with people’s health.

It’s time to unite all healthcare workers in defence of a free and fully funded National Health Service. Coordinated strikes, with a programme of escalation, can reverse the cuts, improve workers’ conditions – and save lives.