Warning from struggling ambulance bosses

A STARK warning was issued across Suffolk today as ambulance crews, already struggling to meet response times, were put on red alert.Already on course for a record number of 999 calls this holiday season, East Anglia's ambulance service has narrowly failed to meet its response time targets to life-threatening calls so far this month.

A STARK warning was issued across Suffolk today as ambulance crews, already struggling to meet response times, were put on red alert.

Already on course for a record number of 999 calls this holiday season, East Anglia's ambulance service has narrowly failed to meet its response time targets to life-threatening calls so far this month.

Paramedics have arrived at 72 per cent of such calls within eight minutes compared with the target of 75 per cent.

Rob Lawrence, director of operations for the East Anglian Ambulance Service, said it was difficult not to adopt a siege mentality as the number of people demanding emergency treatment continues to soar.

The number of calls in the same period is up 35 per cent from December 2002, a trend which Mr Lawrence said was “threatening ambulance service performance across the country”.

He said: “There is no doubt whatsoever that if the public continue to use our service for problems other than emergencies then our ability to response to the most serious cases quickly will be compromised.

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“On Monday morning we opened our major incident room such was the huge call volume and, unless things improve, that looks like becoming a more common occurrence.

“An extra 35 per cent more people from three years ago are not suddenly becoming sicker or having more accidents than they were five years ago, so what we are dealing with is a rapid and constant change in public behaviour. How we change that back is the difficult part.”

Ambulance services have tried to find ways of adapting the service to make sure that patients are directed to the correct form of healthcare, but Mr Lawrence said it seemed at times like trying to put a sticking plaster on an open wound.

He said: “Some of the calls we receive are rather like calling the fire service to extinguish a cigarette. We decided some time ago to try to redirect people to the correct health service rather than send everyone a front line ambulance and, while initiatives such as community paramedics, emergency care practitioners and telephone advice for minor problems have all helped, the numbers they filter out are small compared to the thousands of extra calls we are receiving.

“There is no question at all of us trying to deter people from dialling for an ambulance if they have a genuine need, but the simple fact is many of those who do ring do not need an ambulance.”

N What action do you think should be taken against people who call out paramedics under false pretences? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send us an e-mail to eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

According to the ambulance trust various reasons have been put forward to explain the rise in calls including:

N A more risk averse society in which those in charge of children in particular are quicker to ring 999

N An incorrect perception among the public that GP overnight and weekend services no longer exist or cover has reduced

N A steep increase in calls resulting from binge drinking and drug use

N Increased expectation of the NHS and ambulance services in particular

N A general lowering of the threshold of what people classify as an emergency

N Patients being discharged earlier from hospitals because of pressure on beds

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