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Beds crisis hits critically-ill patients

PUBLISHED: 12:45 28 September 2001 | UPDATED: 10:34 03 March 2010

HUNDREDS of critically-ill patients a year have to be loaded into ambulances and transferred between East Anglian hospitals simply because there aren't enough beds available locally.

HUNDREDS of critically-ill patients a year have to be loaded into ambulances and transferred between East Anglian hospitals simply because there aren't enough beds available locally.

The revelation came as Dr Chris Carney, chief executive of the East Anglian Ambulance Trust, outlined his vision for the future, at the trust's annual general meeting in Newmarket yesterday.

Dr Carney told the 30 attenders that the service is dealing with an extra 15,000 patients this year – an increase of 27pc since 1996/1997, with just 33 extra staff since then.

But another 100 staff are being enlisted this year to help cope with the workload and he said: "We are putting the extra staff in now but we are almost hitting the ground running to keep up with ourselves.

"People are not languishing in hospital any more –they are discharged quickly and there are a lot more vulnerable people in the community now, so the demand on us is set to increase. We can't carry on working in the same ways we have done before."

He said East Anglia was already a national hotspot for road accidents, and there would be less specialist hospitals in the future so ambulance journeys would be longer.

Dr Carney said it had been thought that about 300 patients need to be transferred between hospitals a year, but research had proved the number to be nearer 1,000 – and half were only necessary because hospitals did not have enough intensive care beds.

He said: "These are critically-ill people so we will have to train and equip paramedics better to cope with that, and that would take the onus off hospital staff travelling with the patient, and therefore help the hospitals too."

He said 28-60 per cent of thrombosis patients do not get to hospital for a clot-busting drug within 60 minutes – as is recommended – because an ambulance is often not called in time.

The solution to that could lie with equipping community paramedics. In Suffolk, a paramedic is due to start work based in Stowmarket and another has just started at Sudbury and there will be 23 in East Anglia this year.

Dr Carney added: "In the future, we will need to build communication links between GPs, NHS Direct, and the 999 system so we have a common 'triage' system – first assessment – to see which service could best help someone who dials '999.'

"At the moment, many patients we see, do not need a paramedic, technicians, an ambulance and a trip to A&E. They may just need to visit their GP surgery for a cut shin."

He added: "We are under pressure at the moment so I think it will be three to five years before we could see such a system happening, but I don't think it will be much longer than that."

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