Debating ambulance waits

When I conducted a survey on local health services last year, long waits for ambulances were one of the major issues. I visited East Midlands Ambulance Service (EMAS) call centre and heard for myself the strain on patients and staff.

So I requested a debate in Parliament which took place last Wednesday.

I’d like to thank all the patients and ambulance staff who told me about their experiences, and suggested improvements to the service.

Some of the stories were harrowing, and reaffirmed the vital work our ambulance workers do with limited resources.

During the debate, I recounted the traumatic experience of High Peak-resident Debbie and her mum, who suffered a hairline fracture of her hip and was unable to move. Despite calls to both 111 and 999, no ambulance was available, and it was only when Debbie called at midnight to say her mum was passing out due to exhaustion and pain that the ambulance was finally sent.  By then, her mum had been waiting in agony for over 9 hours.

But this is not through the fault of the staff.  EMAS are one of the most efficient ambulance services in the country, but they have the second worst response times.

Funding for East Midlands Ambulances is the second lowest in England, and over the years of austerity has barely risen.  In the last 7 years, ambulance responses have increased by over 50% – on top of 16% inflation.  Yet EMAS’s funding has risen by just 3% since 2011.

I asked EMAS managers and local crews what they would like me raise in the debate – besides more resources! They asked for help with demands for ambulances from 111 calls.  111 is the cheaper replacement for the NHS Direct advice line.  But 111 lacks enough medical professionals, so call handlers request an ambulance if they’re unsure.

Gemma from New Mills who told me she was sent an ambulance by the 111 service even though she told them she didn’t need one – on two occasions!

People who call 111 aren’t usually requesting an ambulance, but 1.3 million calls last year were referred for an ambulance response, adding 14% to their workload.  Yet clinical experts in ambulance call centres are not allowed to check with patients if an ambulance is really needed.

This doesn’t make sense so I was pleased that the Minister offered to look into the issue and change guidelines if that would help our beleaguered ambulance service.

The Department of Health will also undertake a review of EMAS’s resources so I hope that their under-funding will start to be addressed.

I’ll work with EMAS to make sure the Minister holds to his word.  It’s for issues like this that I stood as an MP and I will do my best – for our hard-pressed ambulance staff, but particularly for long-suffering patients.

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