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Ambulance Watch: Questions asked over structure and size of service

PUBLISHED: 06:30 17 October 2012 | UPDATED: 14:36 17 October 2012

The ambulances at the Accident and Emergency department at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

The ambulances at the Accident and Emergency department at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

Archant © 2007

Questions are today being asked over whether our ambulance service has the right organisational structure to be able to tackle the stark contrast in performance between the urban and rural areas in its vast 7,500-square mile region.

The East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust (EEAST) covers one of the largest geographical regions in the country, stretching from the outskirts of London to the north Norfolk coast and from Luton and Bedford in the west to Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft in the east.

The questions come as Wisbech Rugby Club revealed scrum-half Tim Mason was left lying on a pitch for 30 minutes following an injury to his upper back and neck during Wisbech II’s clash with Beccles II on Saturday.

First-aiders, who could not move the player due to the nature of the injury, called an ambulance and paramedics arrived at the ground half an hour later as their last call had been in 27 miles away in Swaffham. EEAST said: “As a bruised backbone this call was not subject to the eight-minute response target which is only reserved for life-threatened patients to ensure they get life-saving treatment in time and instead was correctly prioritised against national standards for a 30-minute wait which we met.”

The current service was formed in 2006, when the previous East Anglian Ambulance Service, which covered Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, was brought together with Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Essex.

Six years on, there are concerns about poor response times and long ambulance delays in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, with better times in the remaining three counties meaning the service can mostly meet its region-wide targets.

Today North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said: “I’m keen to hear people’s views about the scale of the service’s area and responsibility and I’m certainly conscious that it was a massive increase in what went before which presented a big challenge for the organisation, particularly given the mix of areas, from fairly urban and suburban counties in the south to very rural in the north.

“And clearly, the current ambulance trust has struggled to provide a sustainable and good enough service in the rural parts of its area.

“But I’m acutely aware also that there’s unlikely to be any great demand for more structural change within the NHS.

“It may be a questions of how trusts organise themselves within their organisation.

“I know that this trust, after the concerns I raised last autumn about the extent to which they were falling short of the eight-minute target, raised the question of whether they should seek to set themselves a target of meeting the level of response in each of the counties in its area.”

He said: “We can’t have a situation where some parts of the area experience the level of response times that Norfolk has experienced now for probably most of the time this trust has been in existence.”

Elizabeth Truss, MP for South West Norfolk, said: “In the past I have raised concerns about response times in rural areas; there should not be a two tier service due to a patient’s geographical location and I would want to see action taken to ensure that patients living in the country receive the same level of service as those in the cities.

“Norfolk is a rural county with the two main hospitals approximately 50 miles apart, the East of England Ambulance Service needs to consider how the organisation is structured so that residents are reassured ambulance cover is available should they need it and that ambulance staff have adequate support.”

Broadland MP Keith Simpson said: “If there is a feeling the area is too big and there is talk of a reorganisation of the divisional structure, I’m very happy to look at that and see if that’s something that has had an impact.”

He said: “The ambulance service can cope under relatively normal circumstances but it doesn’t take much to tip them over in to deficit territory.”

The East of England Ambulance Service said the geographical area it covers was a matter for the Department of Health, which oversees such decisions.

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