HARTLEPOOL MP Iain Wright says a health watchdog’s “average” rating for ambulance call-takers is “not good enough”.
The North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) received an overall rating of 8.7 out of 10, or average, in a national survey of people’s views on the 999 Hear and Treat service, where trained call-handlers give medical advice over the phone to avoid ambulances being sent out when they are not needed.
Out of the country’s 10 ambulance trusts, only the Yorkshire Ambulance Service scored above average, with 9.1 out of 10 in the survey by the Care Quality Commission (CQC).
NEAS’s rating comes after a catalogue of failings in recent months in which Hartlepool and East Durham patients have had to wait up to four hours for an ambulance.
Labour politician Mr Wright spoke in Parliament in May about ambulance failures, including the case in which an inquest heard a 999 delay played a key role in town pensioner William Gouldburn dying in his home after a fall.
Mr Wright asked then why it took seven calls to escalate Mr Gouldburn’s case to an emergency.
He also said at the time: “Assessment and prioritisation seem to be failing and the right questions are not being asked during initial screening.”
The survey, which had 2,900 respondents, including 333 from the North-East, asked whether people felt reassured by staff, whether they were treated with dignity and respect, whether they understood the advice given to them and whether they received an explanation if an ambulance was not sent out.
NEAS scored 8.6 for the call-handlers, 8.2 for the clinical advisor (for those who spoke to a second person) and 8.4 for the outcome. However, 9s were received for areas including the call-handler or clinical advisor listening to what the caller had to say and it being possible to follow the advice given.
And a 10 was given for understanding the instructions about what to do if their situation changed.
Nationally, 74 per cent of respondents said they had complete confidence in the first call-handler, though 11 per cent did not have confidence.
While 63 per cent felt the reasons for not getting an ambulance were completely explained to them, 27 per cent felt this was not explained fully.
Mr Wright said the survey confirmed the public’s confidence in the professionalism of front-line staff we rely on every day.
But he added: “Average for the North East Ambulance Service is not good enough.
“We need to have in our region an excellent ambulance service so people have complete reassurance that if something happens to themselves, their friends or their family in a time of urgent need they can phone 999 and receive a very prompt and professional service.
“I will continue to push the North East Ambulance Service to make sure that they move away from average towards best in the country.”
Professor Sir Mike Richards, chief inspector of hospitals at the CQC, said: “We value the importance of public feedback and how people’s experiences are driving improvements.
“We expect NHS trusts to use the survey findings to identify where improvements are required.”
Gerardine Hope, NEAS assistant contact centre manager, said: “The results clearly indicate that we are achieving our aim to manage and deliver patients’ expectations.”
She added that NEAS is already implementing a training programme to help fine-tune staff skills.
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