Plan ‘could double 999 wait times’

Published: Sunday 21st December 2014 by The News Editor

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Health chiefs have insisted no decisions have been made on proposed changes to ambulance response times after it was reported they may be increased in some cases.

The Mail on Sunday said it had uncovered a secret plan to double the time ambulances can take to reach critically ill patients.

The current target is for an emergency vehicle to reach those in life-threatening situations within eight minutes, it said, but a memo leaked to the newspaper said the target time to get to those suffering a range of serious problems including strokes and seizures was to be increased to 19 minutes.

According to the document, drawn up by the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives, NHS England has agreed “in principle” to relax the maximum ambulance wait for “Red 2” incidents.

These are deemed to be “serious but not the most life-threatening” and include conditions such as strokes, seizures and many car crash situations.

The only higher category is Red 1 – “immediately life threatening” incidents such as cardiac arrest, choking and major bleeding.

Under the plans, the newspaper said, ambulance services will get an extra two minutes to assess Red 2 calls, meaning the target to reach the patient will be relaxed from nine minutes to 11, a change that could be brought in next month. The target could eventually go to 19 minutes, it said.

Andy Burnham, Labour’s shadow health secretary, said: “This has all the hallmarks of a panic move and suggests Jeremy Hunt’s only solution to the A&E crisis is to give up and move the goalposts.

“Rather than getting ambulance response times back up to established standards, it looks like he is running up the white flag. The situation in the NHS is now serious and Jeremy Hunt is failing to provide the leadership it desperately needs.

“While there may be a case for reviewing these rules, this is not the way to do it. It is nothing short of dangerous to make a snap decision at the start of the most difficult winter in the NHS for years.

“Hunt’s decision risks leaving thousands of seriously ill people waiting longer for ambulances this winter. The Health Secretary needs to provide urgent reassurance that this change can be safely made and won’t put lives at risks.

“Rewriting the rules as you go along is no way to solve the crisis the Government has created in England’s emergency services. Rather than tinkering with targets, Jeremy Hunt should be taking steps to get more ambulances and crews on the road.

“Labour has warned the Government all year about the growing crisis in A&E and the ambulance service but it failed to act. Time is running out and David Cameron urgently needs to give people confidence that his government has a grip on the seriousness of the situation and a plan to turn things around.”

A Department of Health spokesman said: “We have given ambulances an extra £50 million this winter to ensure the service remains sustainable and the Secretary of State agreed that NHS England should investigate a proposal from the ambulance services themselves to see whether the service they offer the public could be improved.

“No decisions have been made, and the Secretary of State would only agree to proposed changes that improve response times for urgent cases.”

Prof Keith Willett, trauma surgeon and head of NHS acute care, said: “Any operational changes to ensure ambulances reach sickest patients even quicker would need to be proposed by the senior doctors running ambulance services and agreed by the NHS nationally. No such decisions have been taken on their proposals, nor will they be – one way or the other – until next year.”

Mr Hunt tweeted about the newspaper’s headline – “Secret plan to double ambulance wait times”.

He posted: “Categorically refute scaremongering MoS headline – no plans to double ambulance waiting times, and there never have been.”

Published: Sunday 21st December 2014 by The News Editor

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