Report: 'Little improvement' in north Norfolk ambulance responses
- Credit: Dr Victoria Holliday,
There has been little progress on speeding up ambulance response times in north Norfolk over the past 18 months, despite a raft of new measures put in place.
But a north Norfolk district councillor working on the issue said it was difficult to judge given the "huge impact" of the Covid pandemic on the health service.
Dr Victoria Holliday, a former GP who represents the council's Coastal ward and has been working on the issue, said: "It is difficult to see why they haven't made much progress because of the Covid situation - once things normalise we'll have a much better handle on it and will be able to analyse the numbers.
"Ambulance crews and paramedics do a fantastic job and we couldn't be more grateful to them."
The North Norfolk Coastal Ambulance Response Times Working Party was set up on 2019 to work with the East of England Ambulance Trust (EEAST) on improving the district's response times, which have been among the slowest in the country.
Measures EEAST has taken since then have included: Piloting mental health practitioners in ambulance control rooms; piloting a stroke ambulance for bedside scanning and thrombolysis, and working with parish councils to distribute 111 First campaign materials to ease the pressure on ambulances over summer.
A report by the working party says: "More needs to be done as response times remain too long in our rural areas. Overall, there has been little improvement, though response times in the more urban postcodes are better, however with variability."
Factors causing long response times include waiting times at A&Es when ambulances offload patients, a lack of paramedics and a lack of acute capacity in mental health.
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Duncan Baker, North Norfolk MP, said the "most effective step" would be to rebuild the A&E department at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital to boost its capacity and efficiency.
He said: "We have sufficient ambulances in north Norfolk - the problem is those ambulances spend a long time in getting back to the patch, and sometimes they get pulled a long way from north Norfolk.
"Also there is such a high number of calls that come in on 999, sometimes you find that 50pc of those could be dealt with by the 111 service and not a 999 call."
Norfolk's A&E departments are all under strain, with the N&N's receiving a record 18,461 patients this June, and King's Lynn's Queen Elizabeth Hospital seeing a record 7,184 patients in the same month.
Sarah Bütikofer, North Norfolk District Council leader, said: "North Norfolk is a long way from Norwich unless we've got an ambulance already up here. I think we need to look at turnaround times.
"I'd love to see more ambulances stationed here in north Norfolk. The ambulance service has been under more pressure than ever before."
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In April/May 2019 Wells-next-the-Sea was reported to have the overall slowest response times in the UK.
Wells had an average response time of 18.34 minutes for 'category one' emergencies such as cardiac arrest and traumatic injuries (the target is seven minutes) and a 35.57 minute average for 'category two' emergencies such as acute breathing problems and strokes (the target is 18 minutes).
For April/May 2021 the category one response time for Wells was 21.05 minutes, and for category two it was 28.49 minutes.
In the same months Sheringham had an average of 8.03 minutes for category one and 25.07 minutes for category two. In Cromer and surrounding villages the figure was 7.35 minutes for category one and 19.49 minutes for category two.
An East of England Ambulance Service spokesman said: “We are working hard to improve our response times in more rural areas of Norfolk, and are working closely with other parts of the NHS to reduce delays.
“We have more ambulances out on the road than before, and are increasing the use of our cycle response units who can reach people more quickly in areas we expect to be busy.”
The working party's next steps include supporting EEAST's recruitment of community first responders, and continuing a campaign to keep rapid response vehicles in north Norfolk.
The working party report is due to be presented to NNDC's overview and scrutiny committee on July 14.