More ambulances to be brought to region’s roads thanks to big investment
- Credit: Su Anderson
An extra 330 staff are to be recruited for the region’s ambulance service as part of a multi-million pound boost to help it cope with rapidly rising demand.
The East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust (EEAST) is also set to benefit from 160 more ambulances over the next three years.
Health commissioners have agreed to up the trust’s funding from the £213.5m spent in 2017/18, to £225m in 2018/19. The budget could rise again to £240m in 2019/20, if activity remains high.
The announcement comes after one of the most difficult winters on record for EEAST.
The trust came under intense scrutiny after a whistleblower claimed patients died over the Christmas period while waiting too long for an ambulance.
Robert Morton, EEAST chief executive, said: “This is an excellent step forward as we aim to ease the strain on our existing staff who work incredibly hard for patients. That strain has been evident particularly over the last few months, during the increased demand which winter pressures always brings to the NHS.
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“As a system, we are looking after more people with complex long-term conditions than ever before.
“This will take time to do. Extra funding will mean the ambulance service can expand to meet the rising demand. We are committed to working with partners to improve services for patients, particularly in delivering more community care so they can stay in their own homes, where they want to be.”
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MPs in Suffolk and north Essex have cautiously welcomed the news.
Waveney MP Peter Aldous said the investment needed to go “hand in hand with improved management of the service”.
He said it was “vital” work was done to ensure calls were being correctly triaged in the control room, as he was aware of incidences where ambulances were not sent to patients quickly enough.
With competition for paramedics high, Mr Aldous said working environments at EEAST needed to be improved.
He added: “They are many examples of a lot of these people who are working in it and are absolutely exhausted and frazzled at the end of very long stints – it’s important they are made to feel part of the system and their needs are properly looked after.”
Both Ipswich MP Sandy Martin and Suffolk Coastal MP Thérèse Coffey said improvements also needed to made to handover times at A&E departments in the region so ambulances were not delayed getting back on the road.
Mr Martin added: “It’s enough additional funding to make a difference but I think it still remains to be seen whether that difference will be sufficient but clearly we need to be able to rely on a first class ambulance service.”
Dr Coffey also said she was conscious of how difficult it could be recruiting paramedics.
Colchester MP Will Quince said the extra funding would help the trust “deliver the world class patient care we all want to see in an environment where demand is increasing”.
The budget boost was approved by the consortium of 19 clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) that pay for EEAST services, following recommendations made in an independent review ordered by NHS bosses to look at the trust’s “operational and financial needs”.
The CCGs have also agreed a six-year contract for EEAST.
Ed Garratt, chief officer for Ipswich and East Suffolk CCG, which is lead commissioner for consortium, said: “The ambulance service, commissioners and regulators have worked closely on this review to ensure we have a long-term plan for sustainable and safe 999 services.
“Commissioners have committed significant additional investment over the next two years to increase both staffing and ambulance vehicle levels.
“One of the key recommendations from this review is that a six-year service contract is agreed from 2018/19 to provide stability and certainty to EEAST, with two-year intervals to review key aspects of the contract around quality and performance.
“Everyone involved is determined to make the necessary lasting improvements to enable well-supported staff to deliver the very best urgent care services for patients.”