'Time lost, is brain lost' - concerns over delays to stroke patients

File photo dated 06/01/22 of an ambulance outside a Accident and Emergency Department, as ambulance

Wait times at Suffolk Hospitals - Credit: PA

Stretched ambulances services are taking on average more than an hour to reach stroke and chest pain patients. 

The East of England Ambulance Service is reaching those in immediate life-threatening conditions, such as cardiac or respiratory arrest within 15 minutes, but new figures show longer delays in other categories. 

On average in December 2021, it took on average 61 minutes to reach patients in a serious condition, such as stroke or chest pain, when the target is 40 minutes.

Stroke Association's chief executive said ambulance and hospital staff had made great progress in reducing emergency treatment waits but the gains were being squandered by "systemic challenges". 

Juliet Bouverie OBE said: "We know that time lost is brain lost, because when you’re having a stroke, over 1.9 million brain cells die every minute.

“Over the past few years, ambulance delays have slowly increased and the times taken for stroke patients to get appropriate treatments has crept up too. This has been a slowly increasing danger for many years, but now we see an unprecedented leap in ambulance response times.

"I am worried that this severely threatens the lives and recoveries of stroke patients. Ambulance delays means delays or missed chances for treatment which cause avoidable disability and even death for some stroke patients."

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EEAST reported 14% of ambulance workers are off sick in January 2022. 

The latest Ipswich and East Suffolk Governing Body report also noted EEAST is "failing" to meet NHS targets on response times.

For life-threatening conditions EEAST attended in 11.33 minutes, reaching patients within the 15-minute target. 

Patients with an urgent problem requiring treatment and transport were waiting on average 3 hours and 17 minutes - an hour longer than the response time. 

EEAST has recruited over 100 call handlers with an accelerated training programme to improve call pick-up times and recruitment is ongoing.

An East of England Ambulance Service spokesman said: “Since the start of the year we have seen an improvement in our performance thanks in part to a reduction in our staff sickness levels and we are working hard to further improve our response times to patients in most urgent need.”  

Dr Dan Poulter is encouraging people to get their booster if they need it

Dr Dan Poulter responded to the figures. - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Dr Dan Poulter, MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, said the surge of Covid cases had increased both patient demand and paramedic sickness rates. 

He said: "So whilst most people continue to receive ambulance care in a timely manner, there has been an unacceptable increase in delays and some patients have experienced very poor care as a result. This urgently needs to change.

"I accept that the ambulance service can do little to manage these sudden increases in staff sickness rates but it must continue to work to improve response times in other ways, for example by reducing patient handover times at hospitals."