West Suffolk Hospital

East Anglia: Ambulance service in state of emergency as targets continue to be missed

Monday, February 25, 2013
1.10 PM

A DAMNING report has shown that the ambulance service failed to hit response time targets in Suffolk for every month of the last financial year.

Today we can reveal ahead of an NHS board meeting on Wednesday that Suffolk was one of three counties in the East of England, along with Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, to have consistently missed national standards since April last year.

The failings account for both eight-minute and 19-minute targets for responding to category A patients - those in an immediately life-threatening condition. Not once in 10 months did the service meets its target of responding to 95% of calls within 19 minutes or 75% of calls within eight minutes.

North East Essex and Mid Essex consistently failed to meet A19 targets. North East Essex met the A8 target just once, while Mid Essex fared only slightly better, edging across the threshold on three occasions. Just six out of 13 Primary Care Trust areas, including South East, South West and West Essex, managed to meet both target brackets every month.

The news comes a week after the East of England Ambulance Service (EEAS) introduced 15 extra ambulances to its fleet following a review in response to patient and staff feedback.

Suffolk MP Dan Poulter and health minister, who has continually pushed for improvements within the service, called the figures “hugely disappointing but sadly unsurprising”. He added: “These figures are a sobering reminder of the complete failure of leadership within the ambulance service to face up to the challenge of providing high quality and speedy ambulance cover for Suffolk.”

The report, compiled by the ambulance trust’s director of strategy and business development, Adrian Matthews, said that the number of complaints received in the East of England remained high, with the majority concerning response time. However, it noted that written compliments still outnumbered complaints.

Patient handover delays at hospital also continue to be an issue with the average time remaining at 20 minutes for the last two months.

A total of six Primary Care Trust areas, including South East, South West and West Essex, managed to meet both target brackets every month.

However, North East Essex and Mid Essex consistently failed to meet A19 targets.

Overall, the EEAS “year-to-date” position has worsened to 73.94% for A8 response and 93.87% for A19 response.

The report said that performance is expected to improve in line with the easing of continued winter weather pressure and challenges in reaching patients due to adverse conditions. A8 response was expected to be back at 75% for February, the report said.

Meanwhile, performance is expected to improve with a reduction in sickness levels and an increase in staff morale. Both short term and long term sickness have exceeded targets for the last financial year, with almost 10% of the workforce absent during January.

A spokeswoman for the service said: “While recent patient surveys show the clinical care they receive is good, the ambulance service recognises the need to improve its performance against time targets and is implementing a number of measures to do so, including 200 new frontline recruits, 15 extra ambulances, which will be crewed by existing staff on overtime as much as possible until we get our new staff on board, better working with hospitals to tackle handover delays, more effective rotas and special cars to treat patients at home when they may not need to go to hospital. In addition our new chief executive Andrew Morgan is looking at other solutions and working towards a priority of meeting time targets.”

As well as 15 extra ambulances, EEAS is also recruiting 75 new paramedics and 124 care assistants.

Dr Poulter welcomed the increase but questioned its timing. He added: “It is very good news that there will be additional ambulances provided for Suffolk and rural areas of East Anglia but this should have been done 12 or 18 months ago.”

The results of Care Quality Commission (CQC) investigation into the trust are due to be published next month.