HEALTH service commissioners are investing in more ambulance resources in a bid to free up paramedics to deal with life-threatening emergencies.
It comes after two deaths and several people left waiting in agony in Hartlepool and East Durham while waiting hours for an ambulance.
The Hartlepool and Stockton-on-Tees Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), and the Durham Dales, Easington and Sedgefield (DDES CCG), which covers East Durham, along with two other CCGs, jointly commission the North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) via a NHS Standard Contract.
CCG chiefs have admitted that “no significant investment had been made into ambulance services for a number of years”.
But bosses have committed to ploughing £2.965m into the service for 2014-15, a 6.25 per cent rise on the 2013-14 budget.
And in East Durham, a raft of services have been introduced to help take pressure off paramedics.
It comes after a string of incidents and after an inquest heard a 999 delay played a key role in pensioner William Gouldburn dying at home after a fall.
And Hartlepool MP Iain Wright took the fight for an improved ambulance service to Parliament last week.
During the Parliamentary debate, Health Minister Jane Ellison said: “Commissioners do believe more investment is needed.”
The 999 emergency services form a substantial part of the CCG’s commissioned services and are contracted on a cost and volume basis where commissioners pay a locally-determined tariff for activities.
The payment mechanism ensures that for activity up to agreed levels, NEAS receive income to cover all ambulance journeys.
For any activity above the agreed thresholds agreement was reached with the provider that this would be paid for at a reduced marginal rate.
The tariffs for these services were developed by the provider in 2012-13 in accordance with the National Direction to implement Cost Per Case contracting.
A Hartlepool and Stockton-on-Tees CCG spokeswoman said: “As part of the 2014/15 contractual agreement, CCGs have recognised that no significant investment had been made into ambulance services for a number of years.
“This has led to significant additional recurring investment being made into the ambulance contract which is envisaged will provide much needed stability at a time of pressure across the urgent care system.”
Meanwhile, in East Durham, the DDES CCG has invested in new dedicated staff such as Emergency Care Technicians, Emergency Care Assistants, Patient Transport Services and Community Responders.
Stewart Findlay, chief clinical officer for DDES CCG, said: “We recognise the significant challenge that NEAS face in relation to an increase in demand of six per cent on previous years.
“This puts a strain on the service in achieving the national target of an eight-minute response to life-threatening cases.
“It is also recognised that there has been a slight reduction in relation to performance against national recommended response times.
“We have specified improvements and are working with NEAS to achieve these improvements.”
He said it is anticipated that these changes will lead to an “increasingly efficient service in comparison to the current situation where we have too many patients with non-urgent conditions being attended to by frontline paramedics”.
“We want the emergency crews to be able to focus purely on emergency calls,” he added.
“Our intention is that this should provide an improvement in overall responsiveness, whilst still improving urgent care responsiveness.”