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Hundreds of London paramedics were under investigation today after shock allegations about cheating in their qualifying exams.

The London Ambulance Service called in external investigators after a whistleblower came forward making specific claims about in-house exams between 2008 and 2012.

About 850 paramedics qualified via this route and about 600 to 650 are currently working for the emergency service.

Exam papers were apparently made available to students prior to the exams. The investigation will focus on those taking the exams and their tutors.

London Ambulance Service chief executive Ann Radmore told me:

This is very shocking to me. I’m deeply disappointed by the allegations. It’s one single allegation but we take it very seriously.

A clinical expert has been brought in to work alongside the service’s medical director Dr Fionna Moore to assess the “clinical competence” of all paramedics under investigation.

Ambulance chiefs emphasise that paramedics receive ongoing training and are subject to frequent medical reviews of their work.

Asked whether Londoners were at risk, Ms Radmore said: “I believe Londoners can be confident in what we are providing. They can also be confident we are taking this very seriously.”

The service has 1,700 paramedics out of 3,200 clinical staff, which also includes emergency medical technicians and A&E support staff.

“It’s not a theoretical job, it’s a clinical job and the care they deliver to patients is tested every day they are caring for Londoners,” Ms Radmore said.

Ms Radmore said she was investigating the allegations – made in an email to her – because of the new awareness within the NHS of taking whistleblowers seriously.

Exams allowing emergency medical technicians to become paramedics have been suspended. The investigation is expected to take several weeks to complete.

Specific information contained within the email referred to previous issues of concern known only to a limited number of people.

Other ambulance services across the UK employing paramedics trained in London have been informed. Paramedics are regulated by the Healthcare Professionals Council.

Student paramedics are required to pass practical tests and theoretical exams on law, ethics, clinical decision-making and responding to specific clinical pains.

Staff at the service, the busiest in the UK with 1.7 million calls a year, were being told of the investigation this afternoon. It is being done by auditors from KPMG.

Ms Radmore: “The great majority of our staff are not implicated in this allegation and are continuing to provide a good service to Londoners.”