Ambulance service ‘struggling to cope’

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The region’s ambulance service is struggling to cope with the rising demand of people needing emergency care, according to its chief executive.

Figures released by the East of England Ambulance Service show that 999 calls for the sickest patients – known as Red calls - were 22 per cent higher in April 2016 than April 2015.

Robert Morton

Robert Morton

For the first time in its history, the service’s three control rooms responded to one million calls last year, yet approximately 40 per cent of patients were not taken to hospital, indicating that there are still a significant number of inappropriate 999 calls.

Robert Morton, the service’s chief executive, described the rise in demand as “concerning.” He added: “Right now, we do not have the capacity to deliver the services we are expected to deliver and we cannot continue to rely on short-term investment and hiring private ambulance services forever.

“That is why we are working with our commissioners on a long-term plan for sustainable and ongoing investment to service the ongoing increases in demand, but we need to be realistic about timelines, as paramedics are not trained in weeks or months.”

The service is working to implement measures to improve working conditions for staff, including better meal breaks and finishing on time more often, but Mr Morton warned that “the increasing activity, demand for performance improvement, and lack of capacity makes this a very difficult balance to achieve.”

A measure introduced last month was for co-response schemes with fire services in Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire and Essex.

The scheme has begun on a trial basis in March and Ramsey and will see firefighters deployed in addition to ambulance clinicians and community first responders to calls where a patient is not breathing and their heart has stopped beating.

The ambulance service has also launched a major recruitment drive to bring in 600 new members of staff, including 20 front-line personnel in Peterborough which would add 10 per cent to its current team.

Mr Morton added: “I want to thank my colleagues for their hard work and commitment as, despite the level of responses we need to make, they are providing very high levels of care and excellent patient experience.

“We continue to meet with our regional MPs on a regular basis to ensure they are aware of the progress we are making, the challenges we face and the support we need to continue to provide services to our patients and support our staff.”

Over the bank holiday, the service received 1,259 calls in Cambridgeshire, up from 1,063 last year.