Journey time pushes the limit

LONG journey times pushed to the very limit of clinical-evidence could leave heart attack patients' lives at risk, an Evening Star investigation has found.

LONG journey times pushed to the very limit of clinical-evidence could leave heart attack patients' lives at risk, an Evening Star investigation has found.

Huge controversy surrounds the debate over journey times that patients will face for life-saving heart attack treatment.

During Thursday's review meeting into plans to send all urgent victims in Suffolk to specialist centres outside the county it sensationally emerged that the ambulance service could not be sure how long it would take to drive from the Suffolk coast to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital - one of the three centres set up in the east.

Health chiefs claim critical patients will receive hospital treatment within a maximum of 165 minutes if controversial plans to create specialist heart attack centres outside the county get the go-ahead.


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We decided to put the journey time to the test - seeing how long it would take an ambulance from Ipswich to reach and treat a victim in Orford before travelling to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital.

The experiment found it would take a total of 165 minutes from 999 call to hospital treatment - right on the limit pledged by the local strategic health authority (SHA).

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It included a 20 minute wait in Orford to simulate the time it would take a paramedic to treat the patient plus an additional 34 minutes to account for the time between reaching hospital and the heart procedure being carried out.

As for the journey itself the roads are narrow and windy - with a number of blind or tight corners and not too many opportunities to overtake.

Plus there's a risk of getting stopped at the level crossings at either Darsham or Beccles.

We were fortunate because the barriers were up when we went through but when they are down the time wasted could be the difference between life and death.

Most of the major A roads on the route are single carriageway and our journey took us into Beccles town centre, where a variety of traffic lights and roundabouts proved slow going.

Eventually we reached the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital after 2hrs11mins and 24sec.

A journey time that could be halved if a patient is taken back to Ipswich - increasing their chances of survival and reducing their fear and anxiety in what is already an extremely stressful situation.

The Star's investigation had reporter Craig Robinson and photographer Phil Morley driving in a normal car and obeying speed limits - they were not in an ambulance with its blue lights flashing.

However the journey was carried out at the middle of the day in benign weather conditions - it would have taken much longer in the rush-hour in a storm.

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