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THE ambulance service for Oxfordshire is more than 260 staff short, latest figures have shown.

According to figures released on Monday, South Central Ambulance Service (SCAS) has 265 vacant posts and had to increase its use of private ambulances by 10 per cent in the past year to cope with what it calls a “surge in demand”.

It said it only has funding to recruit 90 paramedics this year.

Whistleblowers at SCAS, which employs about 2,800 people, have warned patients’ lives are being put at risk as stretched paramedics work 10 hours without even a toilet break.

The service looks after 3.8m people across Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Hampshire.

A whistleblower said tired staff were leaving amid fears they will crash an ambulance.

One whistleblower, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “Some of the staffing levels are at the lowest in six years.

“We work 12-hour shifts and we are going nine or 10 hours without having a break to go to the toilet or for a meal. Sometimes a call will come in at the end of our shift which takes us into 13 or 14 hours.

“We are often so tired and fatigued that we can’t function properly.

“You can request a break, but as a paramedic you are always needed to go to life and death emergencies.

“We don’t get driving breaks like lorry drivers do.

“There could be serious consequences of driving 100mph to an emergency when you have had nine hours without a break.

“Often when I get to a patient, I’m not able to focus properly or do the best job I can.

“Now it is about meeting targets.”

Official figures show SCAS met its Government target of responding to 75 per cent of emergencies within eight minutes in 2013.

However, it has the highest rate in the country of patients who were only dealt with over the phone recalling 999 within 24 hours.

Responding to the whistleblower’s claims, a spokesman for SCAS said not all 265 vacant posts were for paramedics.

He said the trust plans to recruit at least 90 graduate paramedics this summer, adding: “Demand is rising significantly year-on-year and our recruitment plans are challenged to try to meet the increasing need for more and more paramedics.

“There is a national shortage of paramedics – this is not just a local issue. Health Education England, in discussion with ourselves, decide on the number of paramedic training places they will fund at university.

“These include a number of places for our staff.

“In addition to the recruitment of new graduates, 28 of our own staff will qualify as paramedics this summer.

“Our workforce continues to grow each year. Last year we recruited 198 frontline staff.

“In addition to the recruitment of new staff, our workforce plans include proposals for the retention of staff, exploring a number of options for more flexible working patterns, and we continue to review the deployment of staff to meet high demand periods.”