'We must support our paramedics' - praise as response times hold up under intense winter pressure

Praise has been given to the ambulance service in the area despite increased demand faced over recent months.

Monday, 20th January 2020, 4:22 pm
Updated Tuesday, 21st January 2020, 10:39 am
North East Air Ambulance

North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) bosses gave an update on their performance over recent months to the Tees Valley Joint Health Scrutiny Committee.

Successes include being one of the best nationwide for responding to category one incidents, the most urgent and serious cases, although they are slightly down on last year’s figures.

The target is to respond to 90% of incidents within 15 minutes, and NEAS is averaging around 11 and a half minutes in recent months, although they faced increased pressures during the winter period.

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They are also not meeting targets for category two and three incident response times, although officers noted this a challenge faced by ambulance services throughout the country.

Mark Cotton, assistant director of communications at NEAS, said it comes as the NHS is seeing an increased demand larger than expected.

He said: “Hospitals are experiencing across our whole region, a huge amount of pressure over the last year, and when the hospitals are full with outpatients it makes it difficult to then make the handover for the patients.

“We’ve seen an increase in demand on the ambulance service that has been far greater than what we actually forecast.”

Other ‘amazing resources’ which can help

Vicky Court, deputy chief operating officer at NEAS, said it is about educating people on when ambulances should be called as demand increases.

She said: “The challenge we’ve got is it’s very difficult to assess a patient over the telephone.

“We had to change the way we operate because previously we were an accident and emergency service and we could only go to the most critically ill patients.

“Because of issues throughout the NHS we’re now becoming more the first port of call for anyone. Very low level injuries and illness, but people don’t know what else to do.

“One of the things with the NHS in general, but particularly the ambulance, it’s about education and getting into schools early, talking to children about when you should use an ambulance, what’s appropriate, what’s not appropriate.

“A lot of people just aren’t aware there are more services available, pharmacies are an amazing resource, the 111 service is great.”

Extra cash coming

Bosses explained they were half way through a five year plan which would see them receive £10.5million of additional funding over the period.

Another target for the service is to reduce the turnaround target for ambulances to take a patient to hospital, and become ready to be called out again.

The target is to reduce the time to 30 minutes, allowing 15 minutes for the hospital to take the patient and the second 15 for ambulance staff to restock and clean the vehicle, along with taking comfort breaks.

Currently NEAS is averaging ‘around 40 minutes’, with resources committed to further improving the rate.

However the University Hospital of North Tees is one of the ‘best performing’ hospitals in terms of the handover, with other hospital bosses being encouraged to look at their work.

Councillors were full of praise for the work being put in by paramedics to date.

Coun Lynn Hall, Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council representative, said: “There’s lots of positives in that report, it’s the turnaround success I’m happiest about and that’s partly because you’re restocking and cleaning ambulances etc at hospital and I know there’s still concerns and pressures.”

Coun Brenda Harrison, Hartlepool Borough Council representative, said: “What you’re saying is very positive and very encouraging.

“The 30 minute time, it doesn’t seem to me to be that long. We have to support our paramedics as much as possible.”