A Suffolk MP and former health minister is demanding answers after data revealed almost half of the region's ambulances were broken down at some stage in August – more than double the total recorded the previous month. 

Between August 1 and August 31, 239 breakdowns were recorded by the East of England Ambulance Service Trust, which has a fleet of 489 dual-staffed ambulances.

A Freedom of Information request revealed that of these, 212 breakdowns were recorded amongst Fiat model ambulances which were introduced just four years ago as part of a £54million deal, and now make up 442 of the trust's vehicles. 

East Anglian Daily Times: East of England Ambulance Service ambulancesEast of England Ambulance Service ambulances (Image: EEAST)

This means 47.96% of the fleet's Fiat ambulances and 57.45% of the Mercedes model vehicles were broken down at some stage of August. 

In July, the East Anglian Daily Times reported that 113 breakdowns were recorded in the trust across that month – 103 of which were Fiat ambulances, and 10 of which were Mercedes.

Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey, who served as Secretary of State for Health and Social Care from September to October 2022, has said she is concerned about the increase and will follow it up with the chairman and chief executive of the trust.

East Anglian Daily Times: Suffolk Coastal MP Therese CoffeySuffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey (Image: PA)

Ms Coffey said: “I’m extremely concerned about the number of ambulances that have been off the road due to breakdowns. 

"I routinely hold the senior leadership of our ambulance service to account on behalf of patients, so I am following up with the chairman and chief executive.

"I have asked for a meeting to find out how and where they are prioritising ambulance locations, what they are doing with maintenance and whether they are following up with the manufacturer to ensure more ambulances are kept on the road.

"It's critical for patients that the trust gets a grip on this situation.” 

Ms Coffey said she would also contact the chief executive of NHS England, Amanda Pritchard, as well as alerting Steve Barclay, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. 

East Anglian Daily Times: Tom Abell, chief executive of the East of England Ambulance Service TrustTom Abell, chief executive of the East of England Ambulance Service Trust (Image: EEAST)

An East of England Ambulance Service Trust spokesperson said their ambulances drive over 12 million miles a year and are in the right place to meet demand 97% of the time, with vehicles moved to local stations from elsewhere when required.

“Our teams work hard to keep our vehicles on the road and a specialist maintenance task group has already reported an increase of 26 vehicles available for September compared to August," they said.

"The number of vehicles off road in October is already 4% less than at the same time last month and we now have more mechanics in mobile teams to repair on the road."

They said Fiat have introduced a new process of escalation which has been implemented and a new portal for obtaining parts, with 92% of parts available to support the trust. 

“We have cut our response time for Category 2 calls by 39% this September compared to this time last year and reduced Category 1 call response times by 13%," the spokesperson added.

So far, in the year 2023-24, the East of England Ambulance Service Trust's mean response time to Category 1 calls (immediately life threatening injuries or illness) is eight minutes and 52 seconds and for Category 2 calls (emergencies) it is 38 minutes and 41 seconds. 

The national target for Category 1 calls is 7 minutes and for Category 2 calls it is 18 minutes.

As part of the delivery plan for recovering urgent and emergency care services, NHS England has asked ambulance services to improve response times for Category 2 incidents to 30 minutes on average over 2023/24, with further improvements the following year.

East Anglian Daily Times: Therese Coffey said she plans to alert Steve Barclay, Secretary of State for Health and Social CareTherese Coffey said she plans to alert Steve Barclay, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care (Image: PA)

Fiat Ducato ambulances were introduced to the East of England in 2019 following a £54m deal, and in 2022 it was identified that 94 ambulance workers in the region were unable to drive the new fleet due to their height.

Of the East of England fleet, the Fiats range from 2019 to 2021, therefore are between two and four years old, while the Mercedes vehicles are 2016 and 2018 models, therefore five to seven years old.

The modified Fiat Ducatos have been rolled out across the country, with other services including West Midland Ambulance Service and the North West Ambulance Service also introducing them.

The Department for Health and Social Care and NHS England have been approached for comment.