'Simply not acceptable' - Fresh call for action on ambulance response times
PUBLISHED: 06:30 20 November 2019 | UPDATED: 13:32 20 November 2019
A continued failure to meet ambulance response times has prompted a Norfolk council to demand action.
North Norfolk District Council will write to the chief executive of the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (EEAST), as well as the government, to demand action over what they call "unacceptable" response times.
Sarah Butikofer, council leader, said they were "increasingly concerned" about the trust's performance, which meant that, even in the best performing parts of the district, ambulances only got to the most urgent calls within their eight-minute target 35pc of the time. In the worst-performing areas it was 2pc.
Mrs Butikofer said: "Ambulance response times in the east of England and in north Norfolk in particular are among the worst in the country. This is simply not acceptable, our residents need and deserve better.
"Furthermore, we know that ambulance response times in Wells-next-the-Sea are among the worst in the country."
Mrs Butikofer said north Norfolk had the highest incidence of stroke in the UK, and said: "How galling is it then to know that if we could get patients to hospital in King's Lynn in a timely manner that they are in the top six hospital service providers for treating strokes in the UK?"
Sotak Robinson, manager of Dorrington House Care Home in Wells, is regularly frustrated by the waits her residents have to endure for an ambulance.
Miss Robinson said: "The ambulance crews do a great job and I'm not blaming them at all. But, for example, on Tuesday we've had a resident that needs to go to the hospital, we believe she may have a broken bone. We were told it could be a five-hour wait.
"Sometimes they are really quick, but on the whole there's still a long wait for an ambulance. Nothing has changed since the start of the year."
The council will ask the government what steps it plans to take to "address the continued failings of the EEAST", what it plans to do address the shortage of vehicles and staffing and how it would stop ambulances being delayed at hospitals.
Mrs Butikofer added: "We have dedicated hard working ambulance crews and this motion should not in any way be taken as a reflection on them, as without their tireless efforts we would be in a far worse position."
A spokesperson for the ambulance trust said it was a challenge to respond to patients in "some rural communities", but that they were committed to improving rural response times "using a range of schemes and initiatives".
The spokesperson said: "This includes continued recruitment of staff, reviewing the times that ambulances are working and the amount of ambulances that we provide at busier times.
"In addition, we are committed to working with our volunteers and are upskilling some of them to care for patients who have fallen. Care is also provided by our military responders from RAF Marham and first responders from Norfolk Accident Rescue Service."
The spokesperson said they would trial "telemedicine" - where someone with a patient would speak to a hospital consultant for support in decision making and the "correct transfer to hospital".
He said: "We are also working on the ability to trial a mobile stroke unit in Norfolk, which would result in patients receiving a head scan, blood tests and clinical advice to decide on treatment which would normally be given within a hospital setting."
The trust's quality report for 2019 said there was a "significant loss of productive ambulance hours to delays in arrival to clear at hospital".
The report said of the 49,000 patients it took to hospital over the year across the whole of the east, only 38pc were handed over in 15 minutes.
A spokesman from the Department of Health and Social Care said they were unable to comment due to the upcoming election.
What would the North Norfolk general election candidates do?
North Norfolk's parliamentary candidates have different ideas on how to tackle ambulance response times.
Duncan Baker, Conservative, said as a first-aider at his business, he had witnessed "first-hand" how long it took for ambulances to get to some parts of the constituency.
Mr Baker said: "As our MP I would work extremely hard to implore our secretary of state for health to bring faster ambulance response times to north Norfolk, and to have an ambulance station in a key strategic location so that we can protect our residents.
"If you have a stroke or a heart attack, the amount of time it takes to get to the Norfolk and Norwich can be absolutely life-threatening. We must do everything we can to improve that."
Karen Ward, Liberal Democrat, said: "One of the challenges is that we rarely have enough ambulances on standby at the Cromer [Hospital] site because of the stacking at the Norfolk and Norwich. We need a more joined up solution between social care, the ambulance service and the hospital. Rather than taking patients all the way to the Norfolk and Norwich, we could invest in Cromer Hospital, as a satellite, to alleviate some of the stacking."
Emma Cortlett, from Labour, said there were two key issues: prevention and staff retention.
She said: "There needs to be a huge investment in public health and social care to meet the need of an aging population in a proactive and preventative way. We need more people and more vehicles to get that cover.
"Ambulance officers make a big thing of training more staff, but we have to look at staff retention, and the only way of retaining staff is improving how they're treated at work. We're losing skilled staff well ahead of when we would expect them to retire."
Harry Gwynne of the Brexit Party said more investment needed to be made in staffing so there was less pressure on volunteers, and locations of ambulances, especially in rural locations, should be reviewed in order to minimise wait-times.
Mr Gwynne added that we should: "Invest in A&E services at our major hospitals to reduce or eliminate ambulances having to wait for patients to be admitted," and "Reduce the reliance of private ambulances, the cost of which is increasing again and increase the number of NHS vehicles and staff."