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Suffolk ambulance control coming back

PUBLISHED: 17:10 12 February 2002 | UPDATED: 11:19 03 March 2010

IT'S what we've been calling for all along - but now the ambulance service is finally looking at reinstating a control room in Suffolk.

Local people controlling local ambulances is what our Ambulancewatch campaign has repeatedly been campaigning for, ever since separate services in Suffolk Norfolk and Cambridge merged to become the East Anglian Ambulance Trust in 1994.

IT'S what we've been calling for all along – but now the ambulance service is finally looking at reinstating a control room in Suffolk.

Local people controlling local ambulances is what our Ambulancewatch campaign has repeatedly been campaigning for, ever since separate services in Suffolk Norfolk and Cambridge merged to become the East Anglian Ambulance Trust in 1994.

By 1999, we had reported on numerous complaints of slow ambulances as staff scoured maps for destinations, crews being sent to the wrong village, but of the same name – mistakes which would not happen if the people in charge knew the streets they were dealing with.

The late Ipswich MP, Jamie Cann, said in 1998 that the service was "so big that it will never meet its patient charter requirements."

He alleged "some problems are unsolvable because the trust is too big in its geographical spread for them to reach the required targets, and the trust should be broken up into more manageable units."

The criticisms were taken on board by a public inquiry into the service in 1999, which found it had become over-centralised.

The regional control room in Norwich, which now handles about 500 calls a day, contains separate desks for each county's calls and paramedics have recently been working on their own area's desk.

But now the Evening Star can reveal that the long term aim of the ambulance service is to find a base in Suffolk, and move the control desks back home.

Rob Mason, assistant director of operations – distribution, is one of the bosses convinced that local control is the answer to improving response times.

He said new technology like satellite tracking had proved a great help, but added: "The long term aim is to get control centres back out in Suffolk and Cambridgeshire.

"If control room staff just manage the county they are familiar with, they get to know the GPs, hospitals and get to know the crew intimately – and basically build relationships with the people they are working with. They would not just be a voice over a radio.

"At the moment hospital staff phoning us to transfer a patient feel like they are talking to a call centre in the outer Hebrides and we all know what that's like.

"I am pushing for local control, and trying to get it written in to our strategic plans because I fully believe it's the way forward. We are testing our new technology this year, to confirm it can be used remotely.

"The agenda is to get Suffolk and Cambridgeshire back out there and we are already having discussions with the police and fire services to see if we could possibly share facilities for example. It's a bit like a franchise – once you've got the policy and procedure sorted you can install it in other places."

Meanwhile, the present control room is crammed with a raft of new technology as previously featured in the Star, which means four computer monitors and a keyboard are filling some desks.

There is only enough space for two rows of desks, and director of operations, Paul Sutton, admitted more space was needed.

He said next year should bring a much-needed expansion plan, and that will mean extra staff will be needed.

Mr Sutton has included a bid for cash to finance all this in the ambulance service's application for funding.

He said more changes were already underway to split the workload more effectively between the desks: "We have split Waveney off to become a separate desk, which takes Lowestoft from the Suffolk desk, and Great Yarmouth from the Norfolk desk, which are both busy areas.

"If we have enough staff we often split Norfolk into a west and an east desk. It makes it easier for staff to keep aware of where all the resources are at any one time and makes a difference to our results. We used to have a dispatcher controlling 50 ambulances, rapid responders and doctors, but now Waveney is the smallest desk with ten resources and most desks have ten-15 which is about right. That's what the highest performing ambulance services have."

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