The North East Ambulance Service is at its highest alert level – and new figures show it is failing to meet many of its response targets.
Critical incidents have been reported by ambulance services across the country as extreme pressure and an impending heat wave threaten to send emergency calls skyrocketing this week.
It comes as a North East MP said dangerously long waits for ambulances are already a ‘national disgrace’ as the region’s ambulance service has apologized for not meeting standards in light alarming new statistics.
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Figures released this week show patients were already waiting far too long for ambulances in June, when the service handled more than 34,000 incidents.
That month, the most serious calls – where lives were in immediate danger – received an average response of seven minutes 33 seconds, just above the NHS target of seven minutes.
But outside of this most critical category, the statistics are grimmer, with those needing quick help for serious issues like strokes or chest pains waiting an average of 44 minutes.
That’s more than double the NHS target of 18 minutes, while nine out of ten ‘category two’ calls were answered in 1 hour 32 minutes.
For a third category of callers – those with urgent problems requiring hospital treatment and transport – 90% of calls were answered within 5 hours 52 minutes – almost four hours longer than the two hours stipulated in the rules of the NHS.
NEAS Medical Director Matthew Beattie said staff are “pulling out all the stops” but the service is consistently receiving more daily calls than it would have received on the worst day of the year, pre-Covid .
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He added: “Unfortunately this means we are simply not able to answer our calls or reach our patients as quickly as we would like and I would like to personally apologize for that.”
Echo analysis of ambulance service statistics revealed that calls to NEAS have increased by thousands year on year since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Response times have also increased significantly since then – in June 2019-20, before the pandemic took hold, the average response time to the most life-threatening incidents was over a minute shorter than in June of this year.
For “category 2” serious incidents, the average wait is now about 17 minutes longer than it was then, and for category 3 it is about 43 minutes longer.
MP for Mr Morris’s constituency, Mary Foy from Labour, said a lack of capacity within the NHS was leading to the ‘chaos of ambulances queuing outside A&E services unable to attend the next emergency’ .
She added: “We urgently need resources targeted to really increase staffing and bed capacity.
“It is appalling that the ambulance service has been so neglected by the government that patients in the most life-threatening conditions are waiting for dangerously long periods of time.”
UNISON Ambulance Manager Alan Lofthouse said ambulance staff are facing unprecedented challenges, adding: “They know patients are hurt by call delays while queuing at the outside hospitals.
He warned that more patients would suffer and more paramedics would leave the profession if government ministers failed to focus on improvements.
Donna Hay, strategic commander of NEAS, said alert levels had been raised in response to sustained pressures that were expected to continue.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said £150million of funding had been provided for ambulance services, with the number of paramedics and support staff rising by 40 per cent to nationwide since 2010.
He said the government recognized the services were under pressure, adding: ‘The Minister of State will engage with the ambulance trusts as soon as possible to hear their concerns and ensure we are working closely together for them. sustain.”
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