Union raises questions over ambulance response targets after Clacton death

The East of England Ambulance Service says the investigation is ongoing. Picture: SIMON FINLAY

The East of England Ambulance Service says the investigation is ongoing. Picture: SIMON FINLAY - Credit: Archant Norfolk

A union has called for an inquiry into whether the “watering down” of ambulance response time targets contributed to the death of an Essex woman.

On January 2, the 81-year-old victim was found dead by paramedics in her Clacton-on-Sea home almost four hours after she phoned 999 complaining of chest pains.

The East of England Ambulance Service (EEAST) said its investigation into the case is ongoing.

GMB London, which first exposed the incident, has now questioned whether changes in ambulance response time targets played a part.

Warren Kenny, GMB regional secretary, said: “In 2010 GMB expressed serious concerns that the then watering down of the ambulance response time targets could have serious implications for patient safety. The union back then expressed concern that the changes could lead to patients dying.

“Subsequently in 2017 there was a further watering down of the targets, which were not universally welcomed.

“Under the new system, call handlers time to assess a patient over the phone increased from 60 seconds to four minutes.

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“In light of the terrible case that GMB brought to light on Friday, January 5, GMB are calling on the Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt, and East of England Ambulance Service to investigate whether these changes to ambulance response times were a contributory factor leading to the death in Clacton.”

Mr Kenny also accused the EEAST of trying to restrict information from getting into the public domain.

An EEAST spokesman said: “We will not be releasing any further details about the incident as per standard procedure when an investigation is underway.

“It is important to us that the family are the first people informed of the outcome of our investigation and its findings. We conduct all investigations thoroughly and are open and transparent in how we operate.”

Since last year, emergency calls to the ambulance service have been grouped into four categories. If the incident is life-threatening the response target is seven minutes, if it’s serious than it is 18 minutes.

This EEAST did not answer a question from this newspaper about what category the Clacton incident was placed into.

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