Suffolk: MP and health minister tells ambulance service bosses, “sort this situation out” as board is told of the challenge ahead


Under-fire ambulance service chiefs have warned they need up to £30million extra each year just to meet response time targets.

Junior health minister, Dan Poulter, sent out his message as the scale of the challenge facing the East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST) – which has faced pressure over failures to hit targets – was revealed at a board meeting in Ipswich yesterday.

Bosses said they still need to boost frontline worker numbers – a review suggests the organisation needs 310 extra staff, including paramedics, in 2014/15.

But even after “optimising” current resources, they say there is still a huge funding gap.

And in a clear challenge to commissioning groups, the Trust says it needs the equivalent of more than 30 ambulances and seven rapid response vehicles to hit targets - which would cost between £25m to 30m a year.

EEAST’s interim chief executive Andrew Morgan said: “We knew that we needed significantly more resources and it is in line with what we anticipated.

“This review confirms this fact and quantifies exactly what we need. “

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One of measures being discussed is to reduce the number of back office and service costs. The trust’s board believes this will save up to £20m over three years. This would only result in 100 more paramedics on the streets.

Dr Poulter, also MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, said it was time the trust took tough action and sorted out its situation.

He added: “They have been promising extra staff and vehicles for three or four years and they should have delivered that in a more timely manner.

“The first thing should be to reduce back office costs and invest in the frontline services.

“This is about managing current resources better. They need to get a grip of the situation and start managing their resources properly.”

Other measures, including an extensive paramedic recruitment programme and extra training for staff, will also be carried out.

A number of areas were also identified where the trust could be more efficient, including reducing staff mobilisation times and changing dispatch processes.

Mr Morgan said: “The Trust is looking to bridge the resource gap in three ways. Firstly, as part of its service redesign work, it is looking how it can use its current resources more efficiently and effectively. “Secondly the Trust has launched a programme to make our back office and support services more efficient. This aims to save up to £20m over three years and all savings made will be redirected to frontline services. And of course, the Trust is working closely with CCGs to discuss how we bridge the remaining gap over the forthcoming years.

“Transforming the ambulance service is going to take – probably between three and five years. However, we are making real progress.

“Delays are reducing, compliments from patients about our service are up, sickness is stable with frontline sickness down for the 10th month in a row, we have cut the amount we spend on private ambulance services dramatically and we are making progress on reducing hospital handovers.”

Trust chairman, Dr Geoffrey Harris, added: “We know the issues we have to address, we have a plan in place and we are making changes and seeing some early signs of improvement.”

During the meeting, the board was also told a general shortage in the number of paramedics had caused problems.

Wendy Tankard, chief contracts officer for the Ipswich and East and West Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Groups, said: “The CCG consortium is working collaboratively with EEAST to address the issues of performance from the ambulance trust.

“Both EEAST and the consortium recognise that change must happen to deliver improved urgent and emergency care, whilst recognising the challenges ahead.”

Gary Applin, branch secretary for Unison, added: “Our members, and the public, have been let down by the previous leadership of the Trust. This review shows that despite substantial year on year increases in call volumes, there has been a serious lack of investment in ambulance resources.”