Suffolk: Falling response times, lack of communication... what is happening to our ambulance service?

TODAY marks the start of a newly re-launched Evening Star campaign calling for changes to the ambulance service as it fails to meet its response time targets.

The East of England Ambulance Service Trust is the only one in the country which failed to meet the government’s minimum standard of reaching 75per cent of all urgent calls within eight minutes according to the most recent figures available.

So The Evening Star is re-launching its award-winning Ambulance Watch campaign to keep an eye on how well the service is performing – and we want to hear from patients, hard-working paramedics and anyone who has been affected by this issue.

Have you had a lengthy wait for an ambulance recently? Are you a paramedic finding it increasingly difficult to do your job of caring for patients?

Send your stories to starnews@eveningstar.co.uk, leave a comment on the story below or call the newsroom on 01473 324788.

Community leaders across Suffolk are backing the campaign to address falling standards at the Trust.

Figures released by the Department of Health show the East of England Ambulance Service is the only trust in the country which failed to meet its target of answering 75per cent of the most urgent calls – classed as Category A – within eight minutes during July.

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In Suffolk, 74.2pc of emergency calls were answered within eight minutes during August, and just 70.1pc were responded to within that time frame so far this year.

It was also one of two regional services which failed to hit the 95pc goal for answering the most urgent calls within 19 minutes, with 94.7pc of those calls being answered in time – the second consecutive month that the East of England service has missed this crucial target.

The Evening Star is now calling on the ambulance service to pull its act together and avoid slipping back to the dark days of the 1990s, when this newspaper first ran its Ambulance Watch campaign centred on the former East Anglian Ambulance Trust.

Evening Star editor Nigel Pickover, who spearheaded the original campaign, said: “Fifteen years ago, we were so concerned by the failings of the East Anglian Ambulance Trust that we launched the Star’s award-winning Ambulance Watch campaign, forcing a public inquiry and changes which saved lives in Suffolk.

“Now we are terrified that some of the horrors of the past are being revisited and that’s why we’re putting the East of England Ambulance Trust on notice that we’re going to watch their every move.

“We are appalled that they’re clamping down on lines of communication when they are funded by the very public who need to know what’s going on.”

The ambulance service’s communications team employs just one press officer to cover Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, and Evening Star reporters have been discouraged from calling for routine updates – as happens with every other emergency service in the county – or contacting the control room during evenings or weekends to keep readers up to date with the latest incidents in the county.

They have been asked to use the Trust’s website to stay on top the latest events, which last night showed its most recent newsworthy incident as happening on Friday, and its most recent Suffolk incident as a crash in Stowmarket on August 23.

A spokesman for the East of England Ambulance Service said: “The Trust has put in place plans to improve performance in rural areas like Suffolk, including increased engagement and use of Community First Responder groups, enhancing the capacity of the clinical support desks who do a more in-depth assessment for patients with more minor conditions to decide the most appropriate response, and the implementation of a single computerised dispatch system across the region.

“The Trust is of course disappointed with the results for July but this target is measured on an annual basis and the Trust is currently exceeding its target on a year-to-date position with performance in August much stronger than July.

“The reason for diverting the media to the news section on our new website is to take the workload from the duty operations centres and allow them to carry out their work taking calls and dispatching resources to patients with potentially life-threatening needs. This is a Trust-wide incentive which is working extremely well.”

Suffolk Coastal MP Dr Therese Coffey said she would be raising the issue with her fellow MPs in the county on Thursday.

She said: “I’m going to invite the Ambulance Trust to come to Westminster to explain why their performance has been so bad. The reality is that if you don’t get an ambulance there in time, people could die.

“I hope we can get a dialogue going quickly and get this issue sorted. The ambulance is a critical service on which we rely.”

The people of Ipswich have seen how important a fast response from paramedics can be. David Halley-Frame was just 25 when he collapsed following an asthma attack in Upper Orwell Street on August 27, 2005, and waited an astonishing 28 minutes for an ambulance to be dispatched from Bury St Edmunds because of unusually high demand in the town.

He died a few hours later in hospital, leaving devastated mum Diane Halley-Frame, of King’s Way, to mount a three-year campaign to find out what caused the delays.

- What do you think of the ambulance delays? Have you been affected by a lengthy wait? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk