HEALTH chiefs in Suffolk are to hold an emergency meeting with the region’s new ambulance service boss tomorrow about failed response times, the EADT can reveal.

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The news emerged at an NHS Suffolk board meeting yesterday, and follows a succession of missed targets in the county, with particular concerns about ambulances not reaching patients in rural areas quickly enough.

Tracy Dowling, director of strategic commissioning for NHS Suffolk, said the East of England Ambulance Service (EEAST) was “in breach of its contract” and that a meeting would take place on Friday with CEO Andrew Morgan to discuss an action plan.

Figures published in a report considered by the board show that EEAST failed to respond to category ‘red’ patients – those in an immediately life-threatening condition – within both the eight-minute and 19-minute targets.

In November, 68.6% of ‘red’ calls were responded to within eight minutes and 88.9% within 19 minutes in Suffolk compared to the national target of 75% and 95% respectively.

Mrs Dowling, who will monitor the ambulance service’s performance against their current contract until a successor from the clinical commissioning groups (CCG) is appointed, said she hoped to discuss short-term and long-term measures to “improve the position.”

She added: “What both Andrew Morgan and myself want out of the meeting is a very straightforward, understandable remedial plan that will tell the ambulance staff and ourselves and the public what measures the ambulance trust is going to take to improve performance quickly.

“There are some measures I think they should be able to take quickly that I think should get the ambulance trust over the whole of the East of England above the national performance levels.”

Speaking at the meeting, held at St Edmundsbury Cathedral in Bury St Edmunds. Mrs Dowling said that handover times at hospital were also not acceptable.

During November clinical handover was achieved within 15 minutes for nearly 55% of the 2,099 ambulance journeys for patients taken to either Ipswich or West Suffolk Hospital. The contractual target for each hospital is set at 90%.

But Mrs Dowling said that sickness levels in the ambulance service affected delivery more than hospital handover times.

She added: “I am concerned about the sickness rate the ambulance service has - it is approaching double figures and that has a much bigger impact than ambulance hospital handover. It is a significant issue to address.”

Dr Mark Shenton chairman to the board of Ipswich and East Suffolk CCG said: “I am very grateful that Tracy has taken this on and am confident that we can make a difference.”

A spokeswoman for EEAST said response times are reliant on hospitals meeting their 15-minute handover target for 90% of patients which, is currently not being achieved.

She added: “However we do have a raft of measures planned to improve response times generally including 140 new frontline staff, more powers at local level so staff and managers can deliver the right service for their area, new cars staffed by advance paramedics able to treat less serious patients in their home so they don’t have to go to A&E, liaising with hospitals to reduce handover times and better designed rotas to work more effectively, which come into force in two months time. Under these plans our main focus will be on the quality of services and compassion to patients, and giving practical support to hospitals to enable faster turnaround times.”

The spokeswoman said: “Andrew Morgan is looking forward to Friday’s meeting as a good opportunity to discuss these matters in full and to go over the comprehensive plans we are putting in place to address them.”

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