Is the ambulance service up to the mark?

Is the East of England Ambulance Service giving Suffolk people the best service?Over the last few years since the service was created, there has been a series of failings, prompting The Evening Star to ask - is the service coping with the huge area it covers and are people getting the service they deserve?

SUFFOLK: Is the East of England Ambulance Service giving Suffolk people the best service?

Over the last few years since the service was created, there has been a series of failings, prompting The Evening Star to ask - is the service coping with the huge area it covers and are people getting the service they deserve?

In 1996 The Star launched its award-winning Ambulance Watch campaign after it took 42 minutes for an ambulance to reach Brian Woolnough, from Stutton who was having a heart attack.

Today, 13 years on, we are still keeping an eye on the performance of our county's ambulance service on behalf of the public.

In 2006 the East Anglian Ambulance Trust was scrapped to make way for the East of England Ambulance Service, which covers six counties, including Suffolk, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, and Norfolk.

The idea behind the change was to bring together “very best in clinical practice and advances made by the previous services.” However the Trust recently came under fire for failing to protect its patients from infection.

Most Read

The Care Quality Commission's inspection found that ambulance vehicles were “grimy and dirty” and the Trust was ordered to make urgent improvements.

In June it also made the embarrassing admission that it had not tested journey times to take emergency heart attack patients outside the county following health bosses' controversial plans.

This led to heart tsar Professor Roger Boyle ordering a trial period to test these times.

The fear is these blunders are a sign that the new centralised system is not working. With so many counties to cover, and so many government targets to meet, it is no wonder it seems to be struggling of late.

Paramedics are required to reach 75 per cent of life-threatening emergencies in eight minutes. They have to attend 95 per cent of all other emergencies and urgent calls in 19 minutes.

Health campaigner Prue Rush said: “There is so much pressure on ambulances to make quick turnaround times because targets have to be met. If you spread services too thinly, they tear, and this is what is happening.

“Funding for the service is not good and the expectation of turnaround times is difficult to meet, particularly in rural areas. They are punished if they don't meet these targets and then money will be put towards setting up a quango to investigate what went wrong instead of giving more money to the service to improve it.

“The government needs to understand the pressure the ambulance service is under. I think their life has been made more difficult since it has to cover all the East of England. It is all this centralisation-it doesn't work. You need to understand the area you are working in. The problems of working in rural areas and busy towns are very different.”

After the case of Mr Woolnough, the Star's campaign was launched and this led to an official inquiry into the region's service. Since then there has been a series of long delays for patients waiting for urgent treatment.

In November 1996, Ida Berry's family hit out after an ambulance took 26 minutes to reach her as she lost her fight for life, just four minutes away from Ipswich Hospital.

In October 1998, a seven-year-old schoolgirl fell and hit her head at Trimley St Martin Primary School and had to wait 33 minutes for an ambulance

In 2005 David Halley-Frame waited nearly half an hour after suffering an asthma attack and collapsing in Ipswich town centre. He died later in Ipswich Hospital.

“WE strongly refute your suggestions about the quality of the service we provide for patients across the East of England. We put patients first in everything we do and are committed to the highest possible standards of patient care.

“The East of England Ambulance Service has been a regional service since July 2006 covering an area that includes urban and rural districts.

“In common with other ambulance trusts, we acknowledged the challenge of achieving the national response targets when they were introduced in 2007.

“However, thanks to the fantastic efforts of our operational staff, we regularly exceed both of our targets on a regional basis and are currently the third best performing ambulance service in the country.

“We have received an outstanding response in recruiting to our vacant executive posts and anticipate that our new management structure will make a real and positive impact on the service.”

“We have been asked by our commissioners to deliver a model of care whereby, after our initial assessment and treatment of a patient, they are conveyed to an appropriate place to receive further treatment, and that is exactly what we are doing.

“Professor Boyle hailed the quality of the Trust's clinical care as “world class” and we have worked closely with his team and our commissioners to ensure that Suffolk patients who experience heart attacks continue to receive the best possible initial care that we can provide.”

“The concerns raised by the CQC report relate mostly to Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Essex.

“In Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, where we have developed ambulance depots with make ready facilities, vehicles are maintained, cleaned and restocked by dedicated teams of ambulance fleet assistants and as a result, excellent standards of cleanliness are achieved.

“In addition, The Trust has also engaged an independent infection control organisation, to work with senior managers to ensure that the standards required by the CQC are addressed as soon as possible.”