Ambulance shortage in west Suffolk blamed on delays at hospitals across the border in Cambridge and Colchester

EEAST are failing to meet targets

EEAST are failing to meet targets - Credit: Evening News � 2009

Handover delays at hospitals in Cambridge and Colchester have left west Suffolk with an ambulance shortage.

The lack of resources is being compounded by a staff shortage across Suffolk, with the East of England Ambulance NHS Trust (EEAST) struggling to recruit student paramedics in the county.

Over the last year, ambulances have spent thousands of hours stuck at the doors of Colchester Hospital and Addenbrooke’s Hospital.

As a result, crews that are based in west Suffolk are drawn over the county borders to help cover the lost hours, and inevitably end up being delayed further.

Last night, both hospitals said they had been dealing with high demand in recent months, insisting they were working to reduce delays.

Julian Herbert, chief officer of West Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), said the trust is failing to meet targets agreed in early 2014, when the CCG committed £366,000 to EEAST as part of a recovery plan.

“The number of staff coming in to Suffolk has not been as high as we hoped,” he said. “One of the big issues is fleet draw to two neighbouring CCG areas.

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“In particular a lot of our resources are on the borders with Cambridgeshire and Essex. If ambulances are held up at hospitals, a west Suffolk ambulance can be called over the border. It could be at Colchester or Addenbrooke’s.”

The drag on resources was revealed at a meeting of the CCG governing body yesterday, where it was reported that the situation was still “difficult”, despite an agreement by neighbouring CCGs to increase their funding for EEAST.

Mr Herbert added: “We had just this week a number of handover delays at Colchester leading to west Suffolk ambulances being pulled into Essex.”

In January at Colchester Hospital over 800 hours were lost to handover delays, while from April 2014 up to the latest available data, ambulances were held for over 30 minutes on nearly 5,000 separate occasions.

A spokesman for Colchester General Hospital said the problem was one faced by hospitals across the East of England were and they were working with the ambulance trust to reduce hours lost.

Tony Rollo, chair of watchdog Healthwatch Suffolk, said: “We are aware that hospital handover delays are a key issue for providers and commissioners across our region.

“The figures suggest that the current situation may disadvantage patients in Suffolk with resources dedicated to the county drawn to other areas.”

EEAST is currently failing to meet government set targets for life threatening calls in west Suffolk, but has significantly improved the number of ‘tail’ breaches, where patients are left waiting for hours.

Matt Broad, EEAST locality director for Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, said: “Response times to our patients in Suffolk are improving, despite an increase in demand and the pressures caused by handover delays at some of the hospitals in the region.

“By the end of March, 192 new student paramedics will be working in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire following the most ambitious recruitment strategy for ambulance staff in the country. 55 of those are in the Suffolk and Waveney areas. A further 25 new student paramedics will be working on ambulances by May in Suffolk.

“Hospital handover delays do have an impact on our patients and put pressure on our ambulance crews and availability to attend the next emergency.

“We are working with the hospital and other services in order to resolve the problems being experienced.”

At Addenbrooke’s there were 2,100 instances over 30 minutes in 2014/15, with 223 hours lost in January.

At West Suffolk Hospital ambulances were held for over half an hour on 1,410 occasions for the same period while in January, 208 hours were lost.

A spokesman for Addenbrooke’s said they had experienced “unprecedented” demand over the last year, adding that they are working to increase beds, staff numbers and patient flow.

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