Paramedics caught on speed cameras
SCORES of ambulance workers have been caught on speed cameras while on duty, an Echo investigation has discovered.
Ambulance trusts have been forced to employ extra administration staff to cope with the number of drivers being caught speeding while answering 999 calls.
And today it emerged that one-in-three caught on camera speeding in the North East were on non-emergency and routine trips.
Figures obtained by the Echo using Freedom of Information today reveal that since January 2004, police have issued tickets to 146 paramedics and ambulance staff after they were snatched on speed cameras.
Police withdrew 101 tickets, but 45 – mainly flashed while transporting patients from hospital – were hit with points after breaking speed limits. Among those captured speeding was a North East Ambulance Trust (NEAS) director, stores workers and managers.
Union bosses, who want the Government to accept emergency vehicles need to break the speed limit and should not incur the penalties imposed on other drivers, said there are still "massive grey areas".
Joel Byers, North East Unison branch secretary, said: "Staff feel under pressure to meet targets, not to mention trying to save patients.
"Patient transport services are under pressure and they are not covered. They are given boards full of patients, they want to do the best they can, and while it might not be an emergency, they are still patients and still ill. All that pressure builds up. I am not excusing them breaking the law, but if they are only doing a few miles over the speed limit, I think there should be more discretion."
Twenty-four paramedics and ambulance trust vehicles were caught by speed cameras on Wearside. Sixteen had their tickets overturned because they were answering 999 calls.
Mr Byers said: "We do more road journeys than the police and the fire brigade put together. It's a lot of driving, but we are liable to drive according to the law like everybody else.
"Getting tickets is a long, drawn process and it does take time. It must be frustrating for the trust and the police force."
Paramedics in the North East attend 500,000 999 call-outs every year, with drivers forced to complete a three-week residential training course before going behind the wheel.
Trust bosses track points handed out to its drivers and said staff could face the sack if banned under totting up.
Mark Cotton, for NEAS, said: "Driving is the largest part of what we do and within the context of that incredible number of driving episodes we had 146 speeding offences, the majority of which were for emergencies.
"We spend a lot of time training staff to drive safely to the same level as the police. We want to get there quickly but safely, that's the only way we travel."
He added that paramedics whose tickets are scrapped never find out they have been flashed on camera, with the issue dealt with by the trust and police.
In London, trust chiefs employ three staff working full-time to fill in forms to avoid fines and prosecution.
Jeremy Forsberg, from Safe Speed for Life, said: "If it's not necessary to risk their lives or anyone else's unless it is an emergency, it is not worth the risks. I am sure the ambulance drivers who have seen the results of speeding or road accidents know its effects. If it's not necessary, don't do it.
"If an emergency driver can justify their speed, their tickets are dismissed."
A spokeswoman for Northumbria Police said: "Any ambulance being used to attend an emergency incident would never be subject to a fine, but the administrator's procedure still goes ahead."

'Minutes can make difference between life and death'

KAREN JENNINGS, Unison's head of health, said: "As the number of speed cameras go up, so ambulance trusts have to increase the staff they need to deal with the mountain of paperwork generated as drivers on emergency calls are caught by speed cameras.
"It's simply unacceptable that ambulance drivers have to live with the threat of losing their licences and possibly their livelihood, just for doing their job.
"All ambulance drivers are trained to an advanced level to drive safely and, faced with an emergency, they know that minutes can make the difference between life and death."
Ms Jennings added: "We have the ridiculous situation where the London Ambulance Service has three staff working full-time just to fill in the forms to try to head off the risk of fines and prosecution."

Case study

CHESTER-LE-STREET-based paramedic Sharon Tiffin has been driving for 15 years and answers up to 14 call-outs a day.
Working in Durham, which uses mobile speed cameras, she has avoided tickets but has been blamed after being hit by another driver while trying to reach an emergency.
She said: "Because I had the blue lights going, the other driver complained that I had been speeding and that I caused the accident. I was upset. At the end of the day it's my job, it wasn't very nice and it took four months to sort out, even though I was cleared by the police."
23 June 2006