Ambulance response times fall short of government target
Ambulance response times to life threatening emergencies in Suffolk and Essex are falling short of government targets by as much as 20% – despite attempts by the service to turnaround years of historical failures.
The latest performance figures announced by the East of England Ambulance Service Trust shows failures to meet targets in NHS Ipswich and East Suffolk, West Suffolk and North East Essex.
EEAST’s chief executive Anthony Marsh, who took on the role in January, has admitted the responses are not good enough. He blamed the problem on an inherited shortfall of paramedics, which he claims to have made “significant progress” in tackling.
Politicians in Suffolk and Essex, while acknowledging Mr Marsh’s efforts, have reacted to the figures with disappointment.
The government requires 75% of responses to “Red 1 and Red 2” calls - life threatening emergencies - to be made within eight minutes. Ambulances in West Suffolk responded to Red 2 cases within the time limit in only 54.5% of cases, in Ipswich and East Suffolk the figure was 58,9% and in North East Essex, 63.9%.
Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP Dan Poulter, who is also a junior health minister, said the problems had been caused by years of poor decisions and money being spent on management structures rather than frontline staff.
He praised Mr Marsh’s policy to recruit more paramedics and buy more ambulances, though he warned there was still much to do.
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“While we might recognise that these figures are an improvement on previous figures, there’s clearly still a long way to go to make sure Suffolk receives the quality service that it deserves,” he said.
“We will continue to hold the leadership of the ambulance service to account and make sure that the additional investment that’s been given results in improvements in response times.”
Clacton MP Douglas Carswell said the improvements need to happen quicker.
“Things are getting better and it’s good that they are recruiting more paramedics but it’s still not good enough,” he said.
“I’ve had multiple cases where people have not received the emergency medical treatment that they’ve needed and it’s literally intolerable.
“If the current board cannot sort this out then they will have to go the same way of the last lot – they need to get it right.”
Mr Carswell added that part of the problem was caused delays in hospital admissions and the ensuing “bottle neck” for ambulances.
Matthew Hancock, MP for West Suffolk, where the figures are the worst, said turning around the ambulance service’s performance was “crucial” and highlighted the delivery of 12 new ambulances to the region as “the first big step” in achieving that.
“This will help but there is clearly more to do to provide the high quality ambulance service we need.”
Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey said she had invited Mr Marsh to provide an update on the service’s turnaround in Parliament later this month.
“If the problem was solved tomorrow I would be delighted, but Mr Marsh has told us it would take 18 months and showed us why, and I believe he is moving in the right direction and progress is being made,” she added.
Colchester MP Sir Bob Russell agreed there was “room for improvement” though he felt the problem was not on the same scale it had been,
Sir Bob, Dr Poulter and Mr Hancock all stressed that the frontline staff and paramedics did a commendable job in difficult circumstances and were not to blame for the service’s failings.
The EEAST has highlighted a range of measures it is working on to improve standards.
It 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.
Mr Marsh said: “Since becoming chief executive in January, I set six priorities for the Trust, with the immediate priority to reduce long ambulance delays. I recognise that ambulance response times are not good enough and this is that because I inherited an organisation which simply did not have enough paramedics – a shortfall of about 700 paramedics.
“We are tackling these issues and we have made significant progress. Our staff are working as hard as they can to get to patients as quickly as possible but there are not enough staff to deal with increasing numbers of 999 calls.
“I am very proud of my staff for working under this extraordinary pressure. I ask that we all please support our ambulance staff.”
He continued: “I have always said it will take two years to turnaround the Trust and we are making progress against a backdrop of a significant increase in 999 demand. We are seeing some improvements and over the coming months as hundreds more staff join the frontline line and we continue to increase ambulance cover we will start to see our performance against national targets improve further.”