Suffolk: Police officers’ fears over perceived lack of ambulance crews
POLICE officers in Suffolk have felt compelled to transport the ill and injured to hospital because they did not believe ambulances would arrive on time, the EADT can reveal.
That is the concern voiced by Suffolk Police Federation after it emerged there had been 12 occasions when officers had stepped in for such journeys over an eight-week period.
Among the health issues involved were overdoses, assault victims, two people with head injuries, and someone who had self-harmed.
However, the East of England Ambulance Service has denied resources were stretched too thinly at the time of the incidents - and argued there were no “significant” delays and cases had been prioritised.
Matt Gould, chairman of the county’s police federation, stressed its issue was not with the ambulance crews, saying his members had the highest regard for their work.
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He was, however, concerned at a perceived lack of ambulance resources - and while accepting police have a duty to preserve life, Mr Gould is worried about officers finding themselves at the centre of an inquiry if something should go wrong when taking a patient to hospital.
Mr Gould said: “Police officers may well find themselves in a very difficult position, knowing that to save life is a primary duty but not being equipped to do this.
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“The problems relating to ambulance crews not attending incidents through lack of resources will only be improved by increasing their resources.
“It is difficult to believe that the current problem has been brought about by any other cause than reducing resources, as the service has was better previously than it is now.
“The impact on the public is that they are being assisted by police officers rather than the experts who are our ambulance services.
“Police officers will do their very best for the public but if they have to spend time and resources on an area of work that was previously undertaken by others, there must be an impact on police performance.”
He added: “The police are increasingly being seen as the service of last resort and it is felt that other public service providers should be discouraged from relying upon this.
“The state has mandated the ambulance service to attend medical emergencies and, where necessary, take people to hospital, not the police.”
However, the ambulance service denied resources were stretched too thinly at the time of the 12 incidents.
A spokeswoman for the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust, said: “We have looked into all the incidents cited, two of which we cannot find call records for, and it is not the case that ambulances were not available, simply that the information we were given indicated non-emergencies which are given longer waiting times than patients in life-threatening conditions under the national prioritisation system.
“The ten we were called to were all assessed by our highly-trained clinical call handlers as non-emergency cases on the information given so were allocated the appropriate waiting times to enable serious patients to take precedence. None experienced significant delays.
“Four had a paramedic in a rapid response vehicle on scene, one had a double-staffed ambulance on scene and two already had ambulances en route when police officers took the decision to convey the patients to hospital themselves.”
A spokeswoman for Suffolk Constabulary said: “Our prime purpose is to protect people from harm and keep people safe and well.
“Working with other emergency services we will take all necessary and appropriate steps to ensure this happens.”