Suffolk: Ambulance service hit by funding withdrawal over missed targets
18:49 09 January 2014
An MP who has heard “four years of empty promises” from the region’s ambulance service believes a financial penalty is the only way to make it deliver on its pledges.
Health minister Dr Dan Poulter has spoken out after the East of England Ambulance Service (EEAST) was dealt a blow after having funding withheld for failing to meet response time targets across a year.
Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) announced it was withholding 2% of its funding from EEAST after it fell short of national standards - and will not be paid in full until it meets them.
MP for North Ipswich and Central Suffolk Dr Poulter said there must be consequences for the service’s under-performance.
“We have had four years of empty promises about more investment, additional frontline staff and ambulances but this has not been delivered,” he added.
“Financial incentives or penalties are quite often the way to change behaviour in the health service and there’s good evidence that they do drive a behavioural change.
“The penalties are part of a range of measures to ensure the ambulance service faces up to its responsibilities in more rural parts of the region.”
The withdrawal comes after a report last year found EEAST failed to meet its target of reaching 95% of Category A patients - those in life-threatening situations - within 19 minutes, and a clinical capacity review found the service was performing poorly in many areas.
A Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CCG spokesman said the 2% withdrawal is a sanction written into the national NHS contract.
“Unfortunately the East of England Ambulance Service Trust has fallen short of these standards and this consequence must be applied,” he added.
“NHS Commissioners are working closely with ambulance trust executives to ensure that the issues that are causing the deterioration in response times are addressed and, where necessary, reinvest these resources to improve care.”
Wendy Tankard, chief contracts officer for Ipswich and East Suffolk and West Suffolk CCGs and lead for the EEAST Commissioning Consortium, said financial penalties are used to ensure patients receive the right care.
“Commissioners support the ambulance trust in reaching these standards and only as a last resort are financial consequences applied,” she added.
“The Commissioning Consortium will continue to work with and monitor EEAST to address areas of under-performance and ensure those improvements are made throughout what is a challenging and transformational programme for the ambulance trust.”
It is understood Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CCG is the only body to have withheld funding.
Dr Anthony Marsh, who was appointed EEAST’s chief executive on January 1, said: “One of my immediate priorities will be to increase frontline staffing on ambulances.
“We will go about this by recruiting student paramedics, qualified paramedics and technicians and graduate paramedics.
“Recruiting the staff we need is going to take time, but we have got to start the process as quickly as possible.”