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East of England Ambulance Service boss says new response times will help address 'significant capacity gap'

PUBLISHED: 11:39 02 August 2017 | UPDATED: 11:42 02 August 2017

Robert Morton, chief executive of the East of England Ambulance Service, has welcomed new reponse time targets. Picture: SU ANDERSON

Robert Morton, chief executive of the East of England Ambulance Service, has welcomed new reponse time targets. Picture: SU ANDERSON

The chief executive of the region's ambulance service has welcomed a new shake-up of response time targets, claiming it will help reduce pressure on staff and improve care for patients.

Robert Morton has said the East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST) currently has a “significant capacity gap” which means it cannot get to all patients as quickly as it needs to, which in turn has an impact on the health and wellbeing of his staff.

Under the fresh system, 999 calls will be put into four groups; life threatening (category 1), emergency (category 2), urgent (category 3) and less urgent (category 4).

Category 1 calls will include cardiac arrest and serious allergic reactions and they will require a paramedic to be on scene in seven minutes; while category 2 incidents, such as strokes, burns and an epileptic episode, has an 18-minute response target.

Category 3 calls should be responded to within 120 minutes, and will be for late stages of labour, minor burns and diabetes, and may see patients treated in their own home.

Everything else, like diarrhoea, vomiting and urine infections, should get a response within 180 minutes, and patients may be referred to other services, such as a GP or pharmacist.

Mr Morton said: “Demand on the ambulance service has continued to increase year on year and every one of us working for the trust is under increasing pressure.

“We welcome the recent Ambulance Response Programme announcement as, once the operational changes required are implemented, this will go some way to both improve services to patients and enable us to begin to reduce some of that pressure on staff.”

Control room staff will be given more time to question callers, and the changes also introduce mandatory response time targets for all patients who dial 999.

Last year 50% of all ambulance calls – about 500,000 in the East of England – were classed as ‘green’ and not covered by a national target.

To ensure the reform improves care for seriously ill patients, specific measures are being brought in which will track time from the 999 call to hospital treatment for heart attacks and strokes.

Mr Morton added: “Since I joined EEAST it has been apparent we have a significant capacity gap that means we cannot respond to patients as quickly we would like in all cases. This gap also limits our ability to introduce more measures to improve staff health and wellbeing. Whilst we have introduced measures to reduce late finishes and improve rest breaks for staff, these tend to have a marginal benefit because of the underlying and significant capacity gap.

“We want to do more to make EEAST a better place to work for everyone and we know from the research available that staff with improved wellbeing provide even better care to our patients. Moving to these new ways of working will eventually lessen some of the pressure on staff and help provide the right response to patients, first time.”

According to independent analysis of what has been the world’s largest clinical ambulance trial, the new standards, once fully implemented, will mean up to 750,000 calls a year that currently go into a queue will get a quicker response. Academics at Sheffield University found no safety issues in more than 14 million 999 calls handled over the 18-month trial.

EEAST will begin reporting against these targets before the end of 2017, but the trust says it will be a “considerable period of time” before most ambulance services will be in a position to deliver the new standards.

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