Health minister Norman Lamb, MP for North Norfolk.

Ambulance response times for Norfolk stroke patients “completely unacceptable” - health minister

Monday, November 26, 2012
7.00 AM

Health minister Norman Lamb said he feared lives were being put at risk after receiving figures showing the time it took the East of England Ambulance Service to take Norfolk stroke victims to hospital.

For most of this year, fewer than a quarter of Norfolk stroke patients arrived at hospital within the guideline 60 minutes and the situation was even worse in north Norfolk where he is the MP.

Earlier this year, the EDP launched its Ambulance Watch campaign in response to growing public concern about the performance of the ambulance service.

The figures for stroke patients were provided to Mr Lamb following a Freedom of Information Act request by a third party. In the best month in north Norfolk, May, the ambulance trust managed to transport 7pc of patients within the critical period. Last month the figure was just 2pc.

For Norfolk as a whole this year the number of stroke patients arriving at hospital within 60 minutes were: January 23pc; February 24pc; March 24pc; April 28pc; May 20pc; June 25pc; July 23pc; August 22pc; September 21pc; October 21pc.

Mr Lamb said: “These figures are completely unacceptable for the whole of Norfolk. My fear is that people’s lives are being put at risk as a result of not getting to specialist units quickly enough.”

An ambulance trust spokesman said stroke care was one of its “quality priorities”, overseen by a dedicated member of staff who was investigating all cases where the trust’s targets were not met.

Mr Lamb said: “We know that if you get patients to a specialist unit within an hour you can make a massive difference in terms of both saving lives and making sure people don’t suffer permanent disability.”

The figures cover a period from November 2010 to last month. They show that between those dates the trust’s best performance in Norfolk was in February 2011 when 38pc of stroke patients were transported within 60 minutes. The worst month was this May which saw only 20pc taken to hospital within the target.

Figures for all the trust as a whole range from 58pc in February 2011 to 40pc last month. The trust also covers Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire.

Mr Lamb warned against reading too much into the north Norfolk figures as these could have been based on a small total of patients.

He said setting a single target and applying it across the whole of the trust’s “monster” region was a major factor behind the problem.

It would be better if targets were set across each county and, in his capacity as a local MP, Mr Lamb said he had raised the issue with the Department of Health.

He is due to meet ambulance, hospital and primary care trust chiefs to discuss Project Domino, a multi-service review of the urgent care system in Norfolk.

“It isn’t a case of one organisation being able to solve this,” he added.

The trust spokesman said they aimed to increase the percentage of face-to-face assessed stroke patients, potentially eligible for stroke thrombolysis, who arrived at a specialist stroke centre within 60 minutes of a call.

“A dedicated stroke lead is overseeing this priority and conducting ongoing investigations in all cases of non-compliance.”