Suffolk/Essex: MP says improvements to ambulance handovers must be maintained
08:00 01 February 2014
A health minister has warned that failure to maintain improvements to ambulance handover times in Suffolk would be “unacceptable”.
Dr Dan Poulter MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich said he was “cautiously optimistic” about figures indicating a fall in the number of handovers from ambulance to hospitals which took longer than an hour.
He praised staff and tougher leadership for the improvement, and said seasonal fluctuations should be taken into account, but added that if the number of hour long handovers increased “significantly” again it would be “unacceptable”.
Last winter 208 handovers from the East of England Ambulance Service to Ipswich Hospital NHS Trust took longer than an hour, while the same figure for West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust was 98.
This winter the figures were down to 45 and zero respectively. However this year’s figures don’t include the month of February.
At James Paget University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust there was a decrease in hour long handovers from 109 last winter to just one this winter.
At Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust there was a decrease from 1,409 to just nine.
The East of England Ambulance Service (EEAST) said the introduction of Hospital Ambulance Liaison Officers had seen delays “reduced significantly”.
Yesterday Dr Poulter said it was “not good” to have ambulances stuck in A&E “when they should be out on the road picking people up”.
“Last year was a particularly cold winter and this year is a mild winter and this does have a role in how the ambulance service operates,” he said.
However he also said changes made within the health service had contributed.
“Two or three things that have happened particularly in Ipswich Hospital Trust have made a difference,” he said.
“Firstly we have a new Chief Executive who has made great strides to take the hospital forward really positively and got to grips with the issues there. A lot of credit has to go to him for taking on board valid criticism in the past and taking things forward.”
Government funding to relieve winter pressures had also allowed the hospital to employ more staff in A&E.
“Finally, the commissioners of the ambulance services are getting tough and are saying we will fine hospitals if you keep our ambulances stuck there and we’ll impose those fines and that forced hospitals to take these things much more seriously.”
Dr Poulter added: “I’m cautiously optimistic about this and this appears to be good news but it’s important that these improvements continue.
“I think it is down to very hard work by the staff on the ground and good leadership as well.
“We have had a mild winter and there will be some seasonal variation but I think if the figures were to rise significantly again that would be unacceptable, but we have to accept that life can be unpredictable even with the best planning in the world.”
A spokeswoman for Ipswich Hospital said a range of initiatives had been introduced to improve handover times, including having a team on hand specifically to take over from ambulance crews as soon as a patient arrives at hospital.
The EEAST said: “All kinds of factors affect how long our crews are at hospital such as pressures on the hospital. The figures in question are not complete but show that we’ve got delays down.
“Hospital ambulance liaison officers (HALOs) are now in hospitals to help avoid or deal with delays. They work with ambulance crews and hospital staff to reduce the time an ambulance is at A&E and so freed up more quickly and available for their next patient.
“The HALOs also help to improve the relationships with hospitals to keep things running smoothly during busy periods. Since HALOs have been introduced, delays across the region have reduced significantly.
“We will continue to work closely with the hospital trusts in order to keep this momentum up as any handover delay is not good for patients or other people in the community who need an ambulance.”
One place which did not see such a dramatic reduction in hour-long delays was Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust, where they fall from 162 to 131 this winter.
A spokesman for Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust said: “We enjoy a positive and constructive working relationship with the East Anglian Ambulance Service, which benefits patients being brought to the Emergency Department at Colchester General Hospital.
“For example, ambulance liaison officers are located there 16 hours a day, seven days a week, and help with the transfer of patients between the two organisations.
“However, inevitably, there are sometimes bottlenecks as a result of several emergency ambulances arriving at the hospital at the same time.
“In these circumstances, the handover of patients is not always as quick as we would both like but what is essential is that patients are always in the care of either skilled paramedics or specialist nurses and doctors.
“There have been some days this winter when the number of emergency ambulances coming here has been as high as the number going to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, which is much bigger.
“It is not unusual for more than 250 patients to come to the Emergency Department in a day but the latest figures show that, on average, less than two patients a day spend more than an hour in an ambulance here. However, we are determined to reduce this figure by working closely with our ambulance service colleagues.”