999 service in Suffolk and Essex can reverse failings, says MP as response times targets missed

Dan Poulter on patrol with sergeant Joanne Towell and Pc James Perrier of Suffolk police. Dr Poulter

Dan Poulter on patrol with sergeant Joanne Towell and Pc James Perrier of Suffolk police. Dr Poulter spent the following night with paramedics from the region's ambulance service. - Credit: Archant

Health minister Dan Poulter said last night he was confident the region’s under-fire ambulance service can turn performance round, despite latest figures showing continued failure to meet response time targets.

The MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich said his experience accompanying emergency services on two night shifts at the weekend had strengthened his belief that investment in frontline resources was beginning to pay off.

In comes despite new figures showing that in October, ambulances in the Ipswich and east Suffolk area reached only 67.5% of Red 1 calls - the most serious emergencies - within eight minutes. The target is 75%.

The eight-minute deadline for all other serious, but not most life-threatening, emergencies (Red 2), was met 57.31% of the time. The target is also 75%.

In the same month, ambulances in west Suffolk met the Red 1 target in 71.11% of cases. The targets have been missed every month this year.

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Dr Poulter agreed performance had been unacceptably poor for a long time, but said he was confident recent investment in extra paramedics and ambulances was making a difference.

The East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST) has created more than 200 new student paramedic positions in Suffolk and Essex, delivered 147 new ambulances to replace old vehicles and welcomed more than 30 new staff at its operations centres.

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Dr Poulter, who spent Friday night patrolling Ipswich with police officers and Saturday night with paramedics in the town and in east Suffolk, said: “It’s always disappointing when the service doesn’t meet targets, and there is a recognition that there is still a long way to go.

“It’s not down to a lack of hard work or skill from paramedics. I was in one of two new ambulances and saw that the promised investment in frontline services is beginning to make a difference.

“I am confident we can turn a corner and that response times will continue to improve.

“It has been unacceptably poor for a long time but I’m confident the extra money can support our fantastic teams.”

Last night, the ambulance trust said it was working hard to improve - and by the end of March, there will be 400 new student paramedics on the frontline. It also said 999 demand is up 6% this year.

Anthony Marsh, chief executive, said: “When I took over as chief executive we were the worst performing ambulance service and I am delighted that this is no longer the case. We have made tremendous progress this year, but I always said it would take two years to turn around the service and we still have a lot of work to do.”

The latest figures emerged as a leaked report suggested target times to reach some seriously-ill patients could be lengthened.

The document, drawn up by the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives, includes plans to change the response time for about 40% of Red 2 patients from eight to 19 minutes in England.

It said proposals had been approved by health secretary Jeremy Hunt, subject to confirmation from the medical directors of 10 ambulance trusts.

But the Department of Health said “no decisions had been made” and that Mr Hunt would only agree to plans that improve response times for the most urgent cases.

Dr Poulter said he was not aware of any planned changes, adding: “The government targets are in place for a reason – to get to the most unwell patients first. They are there for the clinical needs of the patient.”

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