Rising demand puts squeeze on ambulance response times

Steve West

Steve West

First published in News Oxford Mail: Photograph of the Author by , Health reporter, also covering Kidlington. Call me on 01865 425271

AMBULANCES are increasingly struggling to get to patients in time because of an increase in calls.

Between April and December 2012, the service received 122,352 calls. This rose to 129,856 in April to December last year.

And a higher number of calls passed on from 111 – the NHS medical advice phone line – was the main reason cited.

The service has also said that flooding and subsequent road closures caused further delays and longer response times.

Rising demand is putting “significant pressure on performance delivery”, a South Central Ambulance Service (SCAS) NHS Trust report has said.

The service has to get to the most serious patients – like those having a heart attack – within eight minutes at least 75 per cent of the time.

The latest county figure, for April to December, averaged 78.9 per cent, with 751 out of 952 calls reached within eight minutes.

Oxford – which has more ambulances on duty because of its higher population – achieved 91.6 per cent. However in rural South and West Oxfordshire this fell to 52 per cent.

Operations director Steve West, left, said: “We can’t keep putting additional ambulances and resources out as demand grows and grows.

“We need to work differently and see how we can respond to that demand differently.”

He said the “main driver for the increase” was the September 2012 introduction of 111, which replaced NHS Direct.

Patients who meet the criteria set down for 111 are put through to the ambulance service to dispatch a vehicle, he said.

Mr West said: “It is a different way of providing the service.

“What gets transferred across to us is significantly greater than what was transferred from the [GP] out-of -hours service previously.

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“We are having to reconfigure our services.”

A study published in the British Medical Journal in November said 111 had increased demand on emergency services across the country.

Mr West said new staffing rotas been had introduced and efforts were being made to use more volunteer paramedic community first responders.

And there are moves to provide more defibrilators – which shock the heart back to life – in public places, for anyone to use.

The ambulance service has a contract with 11 NHS clinical commissioning groups across its area, which can withold two per cent of the contract value if it does not meet waiting targets by the end of the financial year. But SCAS has so far met its targets across its whole area.

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