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Ambulance chiefs will be ‘held to account’ over response times

PUBLISHED: 12:00 10 February 2016 | UPDATED: 16:49 10 February 2016

An East of England Ambulance Trust ambulance. Photograph Simon Parker

An East of England Ambulance Trust ambulance. Photograph Simon Parker

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Figures have revealed the region’s ambulance service is continuing to fall short when responding to the most serious emergencies.

Robert Morton. Photo: East of England Ambulance Service Trust. Robert Morton. Photo: East of England Ambulance Service Trust.

Bosses at the East of England Ambulance Service (EEAST) have cited an “overwhelming” increase in calls as one of the main reasons behind the failure to reach the Government target of 75% of patients in eight minutes.

The latest data released by the trust for December shows that for Red 1 calls – the most critical of life-threatening situations – 60% of cases in west Suffolk and 64% in Ipswich and east Suffolk saw ambulances arrive within the eight minutes.

The figures for Ipswich and east Suffolk represented an improvement on November’s calls, but was still some way short of the 75% target chiefs have set for life-threatening cases.

However, for west Suffolk, the figures represented the trust’s worst recorded rate since April.

Therese Coffey MP Therese Coffey MP

The news comes almost six months after paramedic Robert Morton took over from Anthony Marsh as the trust’s chief executive on a salary of £142,000. When appointed he said he was confident he could build on the work of Mr Marsh.

Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey said: “I’m disappointed with the latest figures and lack of progress in the last six months. I said I would hold the Ambulance Service to account and they are in Parliament next month,” she said.

“Patience on behalf of patients is starting to wear thin.”

Trust bosses last night defended their commitment and level of care, citing a dramatic rise in calls as a problem.

New EEAST director Matt Broad New EEAST director Matt Broad

Matt Broad, locality director for Suffolk, said: “The figures about the time taken to reach people have to be taken in a much wider context. Our service regionally attended more than 2,000 more Red [life-threatening] calls in Suffolk within eight minutes so far this financial year [between April and December], compared with the same period in 2014-15.

“Any response to these calls, even one that is a second over eight minutes, is counted as a fail, but does not begin to account for the level of care given once we do reach that patient and the outcome.

“Despite the pressures we all face, the level of commitment from everyone is something I’m constantly amazed by and proud of.”

Andy Yacoub, chief executive of Healthwatch Suffolk, said he is aware that the service “has room to improve its performance” for the most urgent calls.

Ambulance call handler Ambulance call handler

But he added: “Over time, people have shared feedback with us that tends to be positive about the service, particularly with respect to the professionalism of ambulance crews. Issues have, however, been reported to us on occasion by local people that reference concerns about waiting for ambulances to arrive.

“We will collate experiences from across the East of England and ensure they are heard at the right places within the trust to influence change where possible.”

The trust also identifies a rise in the number of 111 calls resulting in ambulances attending, a higher proportion of serious cases and hospital handover waits as contributing factors to the downturn. Now, they have vowed that work is ongoing to help improve the response times.

An ambulance spokesman added: “As well as continuing to encourage the public, with our health partners, in using the NHS in the way that’s best for them, we are working closely with acute and CCG NHS trusts to improve services, especially regarding handover waits at A&Es and integrating with 111/GP out-of-hours services.”

Healthwatch Suffolk, the county’s watchdog for local healthcare services, said it would be monitoring the trust’s progress, and collating feedback on patients’ experiences to help target improvements.

Figures for north-east Essex also dropped between November and December, but were consistently above 70%.

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