East Anglia: MPs to investigate Suffolk paramedics’ “wasted hours”

SKILLED paramedics kept waiting in ambulance backlogs outside the region’s hospitals are wasting 1,845 hours a month, a Suffolk MP learned yesterday.

The lost time was equivalent to 154 12-hour paramedic shifts, according to North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb.

Now a hospitals summit is planned to tackle the problem.

Mr Lamb was given the statistics with Dr Daniel Poulter, MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, when they met Andrew Morgan, chief executive of NHS Norfolk and Waveney, and Hayden Newton, chief executive of the East of England Ambulance Service (EEAS).

The MPs heard about a raft of measures under way to tackle ambulance response times since an earlier meeting last October.

Mr Lamb said he welcomed the ambulance service’s “really clear programme” of steps aimed at improvement but would be closely monitoring the situation and had asked for figures this November which he hoped would show further progress, especially with ambulance turnaround times at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

“That figure is quite staggering,” said Mr Lamb.

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“It’s an extraordinary waste of professional human resources which frustrates the paramedics enormously.”

The problem meant held up ambulances were not available to respond to emergencies. “In a life-threatening case that could result in death and it can result in worse outcomes short of death, such as permanent disability in the case of a stroke,” he added.

A Care Quality Commission report on the EEAS in May found that it met overall targets, but needed to improve turnaround times at hospitals and tackle its response times in very rural areas.

Long hospital hold-ups have been cited as a reason why the service sometimes has difficulties meeting its eight-minute response target to the most urgent rural calls and 19-minute target for providing a back-up ambulance for transport within 19 minutes.

The MPs were told of recent and future EEAS actions and developments including:

n Placing a “hard focus”, on hospital handover delays over 30 minutes, including hosting a summit with hospitals to discuss the problem, share best practice and explore ways forward

n Better management of 999 calls to distinguish between urgent and non-emergency cases and make sure the most needy receive help faster, with further investment planned by the end of October

n Better use of community first responders

n Cutting time spent at hospital before and after patient handover

n Recruiting more emergency care assistants – a target of 114 by the end of October

Mr Lamb said he had pledged, on behalf of the health chiefs, to put pressure on Monitor, the regulator of NHS Foundation Trusts, to prioritise the ambulance turnaround problem at hospitals and try and encourage a “change of mindset.”

Mr Newton said: “I’m really pleased to have had such a positive and productive meeting with Mr Lamb and Dr Poulter which focused on how our plans to improve service across the trust, including in rural areas, have progressed and what actions we are taking forward to build on this work further.

“Both MPs seemed very happy with this progress and gave their support to help tackle hospital handover delays.”

Anna Dugdale, chief executive at the Norfolk and Norwich said: “Our hospital covers a large rural area with an elderly population and we have a significant proportion of emergency admissions.

“We are working hand in hand with the ambulance trust to make those transfers as smooth as possible, reducing turnaround times and managing the risk presented by peaks in demand with the ambulance trust and other members of the health and social care community.”

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