The study of the management of the emergency services is a niche topic. The authors of Emergency Services Management: A research overview argue that even within this niche, the police are better understood than ambulance and fire, although in this book, ambulance and fire get more air time than their police counterparts.
Pete Murphy and Paresh Wankhade have made a small but important industry in examining emergency services management. In this new slim volume, they contribute some interesting points to what a wider debate within the blue light sector about the gap between the theory of public sector management and the practice of should be managing emergency services.
A history lesson
Threaded through the book is a history lesson in how the emergency services are managed, their governance structures and key legislative changes that have imposed new ways of working. Part of which has been the trend for collaboration that peaked in 2017 with the creation of the statutory duty to collaborate enshrined in the Crime and Policing Act.
Six years on, the message about collaboration is mired in discussions around governance, where the long overdue response to the fire white paper may well push more police and crime commissioners to take on oversight of fire and rescue. Ambulance governance in the meantime seems to stay static, with the 11 ambulance trusts currently grappling with the demands of the integrated care system instead.
Professionalising the ambulance service
The book dwells on governance but makes good points about professionalism. It’s timely given the authors’ evidence to the House of Lords committee on this topic. Pete wrote in the last issue of EST about his experience and the need for ambulance staff to be recognised as a profession. He urged the College of Paramedics to continue to pursue Royal Charter status, which it is doing after its members supported this approach.
The authors argue that each of the blue lights is taking different routes to professionalism, with varied professional standards, codes and oversight, concluding that ‘institutional entrepreneurship’ through the various professional bodies remains ‘an elusive goal.’ This is an interesting point that needs expanding, to understand why it matters if the journey is different and what the benefits are to the public if their emergency services have varied approaches to managing the delivery of quality services to the community.
An ambitious research agenda
Like all good research reports, whether from academics or from private sector firms, the response is often, do more research. And it is the same here. The authors argue for an ‘ambitious research agenda’ to make sense of the meaning of professionalisation.
The gap between the kind of research that the authors are carrying out and the practice on the ground is likely to continue unless those who hold the funding purse strings identify a need to bridge it with more joined up work. This starts with the strategic leaders of today reading books like this and questioning the structures that currently surround them and asking what needs to change.