East of England Ambulance Service accused of putting patients at risk to hit response targets

An East of England Ambulance. Picture: SIMON PARKER

An East of England Ambulance. Picture: SIMON PARKER - Credit: Archant

The region’s ambulance service is compromising patient safety because of its “fixation” with hitting response time targets, a paramedic has warned.

East of England Ambulance Trust has been accused of sending rapid response vehicles (RRVs) to 999 calls when the patient needs an ambulance to be transported to hospital.

This means patients sometimes wait for hours for an ambulance to reach them, but the trust is still seen to have reached its target.

The paramedic, speaking to the Health Service Journal (HSJ) on condition of anonymity, said: “The trust has become so fixated with hitting the target by sending out RRVs to stop the clock. Care, patient safety and dignity are really being badly compromised.

“Everyone has horror stories. It’s as bad as I can ever remember.”

The paramedic said “elderly, frail patients” were sometimes left “lying on the ground waiting up to two or three hours, for an ambulance to turn up”.

They added: “Often they’re in pain, maybe with a broken hip. When it’s in the winter, it’s often in cold, frosty conditions. Sometimes they are laying on a limb, and who knows what damage is being done as a result.”

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Former health minister Norman Lamb said the trust was “at risk of chasing a target, rather than improving patient care”, which was “perverse in the extreme”.

He said the trust appears to be behaving “contrary to what other ambulance trusts in the country are doing”, adding: “It’s just a completely ludicrous state of affairs.”

Trust figures, obtained by Unison and seen by HSJ, show a rise in the proportion of RRVs being sent to calls, from 29% in March last year to 36% in the same month this year.

In April 2017, it was 42%.

Unison East of England ambulance branch secretary Fraer Stevenson said the figures supported concerns raised by “increasing numbers of staff (that the trust is) focusing on RRVs in order to hit targets”.

She added: “We saw this in 2012-13 and it’s really disappointing to see us returning to the same operating model.

“At a time when nationally it appears other ambulance trusts are moving away from and reducing their RRVs, our trust appears to be doing the opposite.”