East Anglia: Ambulance response to the most serious cases is slower in Suffolk

Ambulances outside West Suffolk Hospital

Ambulances outside West Suffolk Hospital - Credit: Archant

Ambulance response times to the most serious emergencies are slower in Suffolk than the rest of the East of England, latest figures have revealed.

The issue has been revealed as the Suffolk Health Scrutiny panel prepares to discuss the ongoing problems faced by the region’s ambulance service.

A report going before a meeting next week reveals that 71% of the most urgent calls – known as “Red 1” – were reached within eight minutes during April and May, lower than any other area in East Anglia.

However, the figure did rise over the same period, and last night a health minister said he was hopeful progress would soon be made to turn around the performance of the East of England Ambulance Trust.

North Ipswich and Central Suffolk MP and health minister Dr Dan Poulter said he was encouraged by plans for next Wednesday’s Suffolk Health Scrutiny Committee meeting.

Councillors will discuss the issues around EEAST’s consistent failure to meet response times at Endeavour House in Ipswich.

Dr Poulter said: “We have known for a long time that there are serious problems in rural areas like Suffolk and Norfolk in terms of response times.”

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He said he feels reassured that, with a new management team in place, the trust can start to act to improve the response times.

“The Marsh Report confirmed a lot of what we already knew – that the ambulance service has not been very well run and faces lots of fundamental problems.

“We have got to give the service time, and by time I mean two or three weeks, to get in place a strategy to address the issues highlighted in the Marsh Report to make sure the people of Suffolk get the response times they deserve.

“The report highlighted that these issues were not about more money but better management.”

In the Health Scrutiny Committee papers due to be discussed are figures for April and May, which show a slight improvement over the two months in Suffolk for the most urgent (red) calls, which should be responded to within eight minutes.

For calls classed by the ambulance service as Red 1 calls – a heart attack for example – the trust’s performance rose from 66% to 75%.

And for Red 2 calls – a stroke for example – the trust’s response times in Suffolk rose from 65% to 67%.

But it emerged Suffolk fared worse than Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, South Essex, North Essex and Hertfordshire. The lowest response time of 71% was recorded in the county, missing the 75% target set by the Department of Health.

At next Wednesday’s meeting it is understood representatives from Ipswich Hospital, West Suffolk Hospital, the commissioners in Suffolk and other organisations will attend to look at problems including hospital handover times.

Dr Poulter welcomed “broader scrutiny” of the issues at next week’s meeting, adding: “It is important to look at the other factors which influence the ambulance service’s performance, handover times at hospital for example.

“It is vital to look at how social care services can be improved for the frail and elderly to prevent them getting to a point where they need an ambulance to take them into hospital.

“It is a very sensible move to take an overview of the situation. It is important then for the ambulance service to listen and act on the issues raised.

“It is not just the fault of the ambulance service, it is the broader health and social care system.”

Andrew Morgan, chief executive of EEAST said: “Our turnaround plan highlights the challenges we face.

“This includes the need to improve response times in rural areas, as shown in these figures. We are focussed on improving our service to patients.

“This is through actions such as recruiting more front line staff, increasing the availability of NHS ambulances on the road, maximising the amount of funding we put into front line resources – so far this year we have invested an additional £5 million in front line resources by cutting expenditure elsewhere – and reducing sickness absence levels.”