Can our ambulances cope with loss of A&E?’

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CONCERNS have been raised about ambulance cover and response times amid a shake-up of health services.

Health campaigners are pushing for reassurances that ambulance provision is effective following the closure of the accident and emergency department at the University Hospital of Hartlepool.

But chiefs at the North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) say response times are well above national targets and crews are trained to save lives at the scene.

They have also responded to the closure of the A & E department by stationing an extra ambulance in town,

The concerns come after ambulance bosses confirmed that it took 45 minutes for an ambulance to get to a recent road accident on the A689, between Newton Bewley and Wolviston, 15 minutes beyond the expected response time.

NEAS bosses say the incident, on the evening of February 21, was assessed, the female motorist was not in danger and two ambulances that were initially dispatched had to be diverted to more life-threatening cases in the meantime.

But Councillor Geoff Lilley, a member of the Putting Hartlepool First group, who sits on Hartlepool’s Health Scrutiny Forum and the Tees Valley Joint Health Scrutiny Committee, expressed concern.

He said: “Since the loss of hospital-based A&E in Hartlepool, the powers-that-be have assured us that we are covered by both the services offered at One Life Hartlepool and the assurances that ambulances are on hand should patients need to be taken to North Tees hospital, in Stockton, in serious cases.”

He said the incident on the A689 raised some “serious questions about just how robust that ambulance service is”.

Coun Lilley, who represents the Greatham ward and is also vice-chairman of the Save Our Hospital group, added: “I am not in any way criticising the NEAS.

“In my opinion they are having to pick up the shortfall in what’s been a very bad decision to close Hartlepool A&E.

“The fault lies in those who have taken local A&E away.

“It seems that there are times when insufficient ambulances cover the Hartlepool and east Durham area.”

A presentation on the proposed reconfiguration of accident and emergency ambulance services was held at Durham County Council’s headquarters, in Durham City, yesterday.

Save Our Hospital chairman Keith Fisher, from Hartlepool, voiced his concerns at the meeting that the ambulance service for town was getting worse following the A&E closure.

Mark Cotton, the NEAS’ assistant director of communications and engagement, said afterwards that ambulances are getting to 84.8 per cent of 999 calls within eight minutes compared to the national commissioned standard of 75 per cent.

He added that an extra ambulance has been stationed in Hartlepool since the A&E changes.

Mr Cotton continued: “What leads to good patient outcomes is ensuring the patient gets to the right place first time.”

He said on the night of the A689 incident the service saw an “unexpected peak in demand” that saw two ambulances diverted to higher risk cases.

A spokeswoman for the service added: “We are satisfied that the level of ambulance cover provided in the Hartlepool and east Durham area is sufficient to meet demand.”

A North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust spokeswoman said: “North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust and NHS Hartlepool work very closely with the North East Ambulance Service to ensure that emergency situations can be dealt with and we agree with NEAS that the ambulance cover for the town is sufficient to meet demand.”