Patient fears over ambulance ‘shock’

PATIENTS living in rural Suffolk could face even longer waiting times for ambulances from next year, it has been warned.

The Government is introducing a new range of performance measures for emergency care to replace existing NHS targets.

The changes will come into force from next April and will involve the requirement for ambulances to attend serious but not life-threatening cases within 19 minutes being scrapped and replaced with a set of 11 new indicators.

Ambulance services will still have to respond to 75% of all category A calls – those in which the patient’s life is in immediate danger – within eight minutes.

But they will also have to perform against a new set of measures, such as the recovery of patients who have suffered a cardiac arrest or stroke.

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The four-hour waiting time target for A&E patients will also be axed in favour of a focus on prioritising patients who require rapid treatment instead of those who have been waiting the longest.

The GMB union said the plan was a “shocking scaling back” of ambulance services currently provided to patients.

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And Suffolk health campaigner Prue Rush said she was sure people in rural areas would “suffer” from the changes.

“What we need is more ambulances and more money spent on the service in this area, but we all know they are not going to get it,” she said. “It’s the patients who will suffer the most.”

Bob Cockle, chairman of Bury St Edmunds Town Council, said he was concerned about scrapping the four-hour waiting time target for A&E patients and the 19-minute ambulance target for serious but not life-threatening cases.

“These are about the only targets in the NHS I think should be maintained and, if not, shortened or strengthened anyway,” he said.

He believed scrapping these targets was a watering down of services.

Dave Powell, of the GMB East of England, said Suffolk needed more ambulances on the road, rather than more Government “tinkering” with targets and standards.

But Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said the Government wanted to provide a “balanced and comprehensive view” of how emergency care works and stop the “isolated” focus on faster care.

Some parts the NHS felt pressured into meeting process-led targets for A&E and ambulances that “distort” priorities and lack clinical justification.

“The new measures will focus on the quality of care and what matters most to patients – giving a better indication of patient care than the previous process-led targets ever could.

“By putting patient safety and outcomes at the heart of the health service, A&E departments and ambulance trusts can demonstrate they provide safe and effective clinical care in a timely manner rather than meeting a specific target.

“This is not about hitting targets - importantly, it is about giving the NHS more freedom to deliver quality care,” said Mr Lansley.

The news comes as the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust calls on people to be “patient” when waiting for ambulances this Christmas.

Neil Storey, the trust’s associate director for emergency operations, said: “We work hard to ensure we deliver as normal service as possible and continually improve our response to those who are seriously ill or in life-threatening situations, whatever the circumstances.

“But we must stress that people who do not need emergency treatment must be prepared to be patient. If your injury or illness can be managed in another way it means our response to patients who really do need us – those in a life-threatening of very serious condition – can remain our top priority.”

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