The health watchdog has found the ambulance trust that serves Hertfordshire is understaffed and still missing emergency response times.

The Care Quality Commission carried out an unannounced inspection of the East of England Ambulance Trust in December last year and published its findings today.

The report said the trust still needed to improve its emergency response times and plug a shortfall of up to 500 paramedics.

Chairman of the trust Dr Geoffrey Harris (pictured below) announced his resignation yesterday, ahead of the publication of the report today, and four months before his year-long appointment was due to come to an end.

Watford Observer: Ambulance trust boss resigns ahead of watchdog report

The inspection found that the trust met all but two of the CQC’s seven safety standards, but needed to improve its response times and a shortfall of hundreds of paramedics.

Although the trust consistently met performance targets in relation to its less urgent calls, its performance in urgent calls was still below expectations.

Ambulance services are required to respond to at least 75 per cent of life-threatening calls within eight minutes, and 95 per cent of all calls within 19 minutes.

The trust had not met any of these targets for the year 2012/2013 and was forecast to underachieve this year, and had one of the lowest rates of performance for the 19-minute category.

Ambulance turnaround times at hospitals have worsened since the CQC’s previous inspection in January, with ambulances taking longer to get ready to respond after dropping off a patient.

Senior fire offices told inspectors that although the quality of ambulance crews was excellent, firefighters often had to wait “excessive” times for an ambulance to arrive, which could cause delays in being able to cut people out of cars following road traffic accidents.

One of the officers said: "Quite simply they just don't seem to have the necessary resources to meet the demand."

The report echoed this, saying the failings were due to the trust not having enough suitably qualified staff.

In September the trust revealed it needed 82 specialist paramedics, 149 paramedics, 24 emergency medical technicians and 96 emergency care assistants.

The trust had launched a recruitment campaign, and has although successful in recruiting new EMTs, it has not been able to fill all the vacancies, and has lost a number of employees due to illness, resulting in only four new paramedics.

An independent review found the trust needed more than 500 new paramedics by 2016/17 in order to meet performance targets.

The trust is considering recruiting from Australia to plug the gap, and will allow emergency care assistants to progress to become fully qualified paramedics.

The report said the trust faced “considerable challenges” in recruiting the trained staff it needed to improve its performance.

Inspectors did identify a number of areas where the trust had made “significant improvements”, including staff sickness rates and the number of staff needing a performance development review.

Complaints relating to ambulance delays had decreased, as had the number of serious incidents experienced by the trust. High spending on private ambulance services has also fallen.

The CQC concluded it would not take further enforcement action, but had escalated concerns over response times to the Trust Development Authority, which will help the trust take the necessary action to improve the service.

Dr Anthony Marsh, chief executive of the trust, said he welcomed the report as it shows what improvements have been made, and must be made.

He added: “We have started recruiting 400 student paramedics and I am delighted that we have had in excess of 1,000 applications in the first week.

“In addition, we will be looking to recruit more graduate paramedics and provide additional training for existing staff.

“Along with other actions such as our hospital liaison ambulance officer schemes to help speed up patient handovers at hospitals, this will improve patient care, reduce ambulance delays and be beneficial for staff.”