Suffolk leaders 'disappointed' over missed ambulance response times for life-threatening calls
PUBLISHED: 17:36 21 May 2018 | UPDATED: 17:36 21 May 2018
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Critically ill patients in Suffolk are waiting too long for an ambulance despite new measures being introduced to tackle delays, figures reveal.
The East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust (EEAST) implemented updated Government-approved standards for handling and responding to 999 calls in October 2017.
Under this system, crews should respond to all category one calls – those which are immediately life-threatening – within an average time of seven minutes, and within 15 minutes at least nine out of 10 times.
Statistics from EEAST show the trust has failed to hit those targets in Suffolk in every month since the launch.
In December 2017, crews received 258 category one calls in the west of the county and responded within an average time of 10 minutes, 47 seconds.
While EEAST reports to these new targets, it is not yet commissioned to deliver them and bosses say they are performing as expected at this stage of the programme.
Leaders have also insisted the trust will be judged on its overall regional performance rather than by counties.
A spokesman said: “By the nature of some rural geography within the East of England, some locations are harder to reach as quickly as others.”
Dr Dan Poulter, Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP, expressed his disappointment over the figures.
He added: “Patients in Suffolk deserve the very best of care and whilst the trust acknowledges it is only required to meets its targets regionally, Suffolk should not be left behind with patients waiting longer than is required.”
Suffolk Coastal MP Dr Therese Coffey said the problem was compounded by delays in handing over patients to A&E departments.
“I have been campaigning for many years to improve ambulance response times in rural areas and whilst the ambulance service had been making significant progress the main problem is about the length of time ambulances have to wait at several hospitals to transfer patients,” she added. “I have raised this issue with NHS leadership and the health minister and will continue to keep the pressure on those hospitals.”
Sarah Adams, Labour’s spokeswoman for health at Suffolk County Council, said the figures were “very disappointing and very worrying for the residents of Suffolk”.
She added: “Continual underfunding and austerity have hit all public services very hard and the ambulance service is no exception.
“EEAST has been under huge pressure for a number of years and there are more calls than ever and funding and staff recruitment continue to be difficult.”
Sam Older, regional organiser at UNISON who covers EEAST, said these targets often put “more stress and strain” on staff, and a better measure of performance would be how well patients were assessed and treated.
EEAST has this month been awarded increased funding for 330 extra staff and 160 additional ambulances over the next three years.
Trust and Suffolk leaders alike agree this boost should eventually improve response times.