Ambulance service still failing government targets across Suffolk as MPs quiz trust leaders
- Credit: Evening News � 2009
Ambulance response times in Suffolk are still well below government targets, despite ongoing efforts to improve the much-maligned service.
Yesterday, MPs from across the region held a meeting with the chief executive of the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust (EEAST), Dr Anthony Marsh, where he highlighted recent recruitment drives and significant investment.
However, the latest trust data has revealed consistent failure to meet targets.
In west Suffolk there was a 10% drop in performance during December and January, with response times for the most critical of life-threatening situations, known as ‘Red 1’, taking more than eight minutes in around 60% of cases. This is compared to a government target of 75%.
Last August, just 50% of ‘Red 1’ cases in the Ipswich and east Suffolk area were reached within eight minutes.
However, Dr Marsh stressed that recent improvements were having a positive effect. He said: “EEAST is no longer the worst-performing ambulance service in the country.”
He pointed out that they were meeting the ‘Red 1’ target in many of the trust’s six areas in the region.
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Suffolk Coastal MP Dr Therese Coffey, who organised yesterday’s meeting in Westminster, said afterwards: “There are reasons to be cheerful, but the board knows we are impatient to be successful.”
Tony Rollo, chairman of Healthwatch Suffolk, said the figures were evidence the service still had some way to go.
“From these figures we see that there are still many improvements needed to turn around the performance of the trust and reach the standards of service quality that patients should expect,” he added.
“We will continue to monitor patient experiences of ambulance services across the eastern region and share these with the trust at the right levels.”
Despite the improvements, the trust has failed to reach most of its targets in Suffolk since April 2014.
In west Suffolk, the ‘Red 1’ target was reached in July only, while in east Suffolk every month was at least 6% below the 75% benchmark.
Trust chairman Sarah Boulton defended its record. She said: “We would like to be in a position where we are meeting all the statutory targets at this time.
“That would have been our expectation, but if you look at our plans for the year, you will see we had not planned, and neither had our commissioners, for the high level of demand that we have experienced.”
An EEAST spokesman said: “We recognise the need to improve performance in Suffolk and we’ve been clear that peaks in demand can affect our response to patients.
“We are responding to more emergencies than ever before and our staff are working flat out to get to patients as quickly as possible.
“The trust is implementing a number of measures including recruiting and training more than 400 new frontline staff including dozens in Suffolk by March, completing our vehicle replacement programme to ensure our fleet is fit for purpose and that no ambulance is more than five years old, and we are working with the hospitals to tackle patient handover delays and ambulance turnaround times.”
Jane Basham, Labour’s South Suffolk MP candidate, said the issues stemmed from government cuts. “I’m deeply concerned to learn that once again our hard pressed ambulance service is failing to meet vital response targets,” she said.
“Targets that are quite simply a matter of life or death. It’s clear that one off cash injections and downgrading 999 calls are not the solution. Once again rural areas being hard hit by the cuts.”
A spokesman for NHS Ipswich and East Suffolk and NHS West Suffolk clinical commissioning groups, which commissions the trust, said: “Both clinical commissioning groups continue to work with the ambulance trust to address their performance issues.
“EEAST is already restructuring and redesigning services, including recruiting more frontline staff to meet increased demand.”