East Anglia: East of England Ambulance Service criticised for response times for stroke sufferers

THE ambulance service in East Anglia has come under fresh scrutiny after new figures revealed less than half of stroke sufferers were taken to specialist hospitals within the target time.

Statistics show East of England Ambulance Service has missed targets for getting sufferers to stroke units for four consecutive months this year.

The service aims to transport 62% of patients to specialist units within an hour of a stroke but, on average, achieved just 49.3% from January to July.

In his role as constituency MP, Dr Dan Poulter said he had known for some time the ambulance service had been “struggling” to meet its targets.

He said it was people living in rural areas who received a “rough deal” as specialist stroke centres “save lives”.

Dr Poulter stressed the importance of stroke patients receiving thrombolytic or clot-busting drugs as early as possible to give them the best chance of avoiding brain damage.

And fellow MP Therese Coffey has criticised the service for consistently missing targets.

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She said: “I have written to the chairman of the ambulance trust, Maria Ball, outlining my concerns about the shocking level of service provided and am demanding changes.

“Ever since the targets moved to a county basis, the trust has consistently failed them for Suffolk. I have asked the board to look at this as a matter of urgency.

“I have tasked the chairman to make a step change in performance and expect that by the time we meet in November there will be a noticeable difference for all patients.”The Stroke Association has criticised the figures and claimed response times could get even worse.

Neil Chapman, the charity’s assistant regional manager, said a review of stroke services by Midlands and East of England Strategic Health Authority could recommend a regional specialist centre be established at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, in Cambridge – making it even tougher for the ambulance service to meet targets.

Mr Chapman added: “If a regional centre is made around Addenbrooke’s Hospital for specialist stroke care, and other hospitals in the region don’t have that, there could be a longer journey time for people.

“We are concerned they are not meeting their targets but we are seeing they are putting in measures to improve that, and it’s important to see these making a difference.

“It is absolutely essential that anybody who suffers a stroke gets to hospital as quickly as possible.

“Everyone who has a stroke needs to see a stroke specialist as soon as possible and a proportion of patients are eligible to receive clot-busting treatments which could reduce the amount of brain damage.

“However, these need to be administered within four and a half hours of the stroke symptoms starting.”

A spokeswoman for the East of England Ambulance Service said: “There are no national targets set with clinical quality indicators but this year the trust has set its own stretch target of 62% for the stroke indicator.

“Achieving this is one of our quality priority areas and has been carried over from 2011/12 into the current year with the aim of increasing the number of patients who reach a specialist stroke unit within an hour from the previous trust target of 50%.

“A dedicated stroke lead is overseeing this priority and conducting ongoing investigations in all cases of non-compliance.

“Unfortunately, there is little that can be done regarding the effect of geography on transport times, with sometimes extended journey times to hospital in rural parts or where local district general hospitals have to be bypassed in preference for specialist centres further away.”