Ambulance Watch: Long ambulance back-up delays revealed in Norfolk and Suffolk

Ambulance back-up times

Ambulance back-up times - Credit: Archant

The scale of the challenge facing the region's new ambulance chief has been laid bare after it emerged that thousands of Norfolk and Suffolk patients waited more than an hour for an ambulance to turn up over the last two years.

New figures show that more than 2,600 patients in the two counties waited more than 60 minutes for an ambulance during a 20 month period and there were almost 400 occasions where an ambulance did not show up for more than two hours.

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Bosses at the East of England Ambulance Service last night pledged to address ambulance back-up delays, but warned that it would take time to recruit extra paramedics and student paramedics to increase resources on the front-line.

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Between December 2011 and July 2013, more than 46,000 requests were made by paramedics arriving at a 999 call in a Rapid Response Vehicle (RRV) for an ambulance to attend to take patients to hospital.

However, 2,687 of those requests in Norfolk and Suffolk resulted in wait longer than an hour.

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The figures also reveal an almost 50pc increase in the number of 60 minute or more ambulance delays in the first half of 2013, compared with the first six months of 2012.

The under-pressure ambulance trust has hired Anthony Marsh, CEO of the West Midlands Ambulance Service, as its new chief executive this year and has pledged to improve performance.

A health minister said the back-up delay figures showed how the NHS needed to change national ambulance targets after trusts used RRV cars to hit their A19 target to get a transportable resource to 95pc of the most urgent cases in 19 minutes.

Norman Lamb, MP for North Norfolk, said the behaviour of the ambulance trust had been 'distorted' by relying on cars to help hit targets. He added that he had met Sir Bruce Keogh, NHS medical director, and Keith Willett, director for acute episodes of care at NHS England, urging them to make changes as part of their review into NHS urgent and emergency care services.

Mr Lamb said that the East of England Ambulance Service's use of RRVs was 'an enormous waste of resources' when the trust needed more double staffed ambulances.

'Paramedics are very skilled clinicians and there are lots of patients that can be treated at the scene, but once a decision has been made to get them to hospital, you do not want a delay.

'For a paramedic to be on a scene for two hours waiting with a patient is frustrating and it is stopping them from doing their job.

'The figures demonstrate that after all those stories of people waiting a long time at roadsides there are more experiencing the same thing. It demonstrates the scale and challenge ahead for Anthony Marsh, but I get the impression he is getting to grips with it,' he said.

A spokesman for the ambulance trust said there was no national target for ambulance back-up times. However, a paramedic could request back-up for four different speeds of response.

'The trust recognises that back-up delays are an issue,' he said.

'There have been some improvements with Red 1 back-up delays being at their lowest level since December 2011. However, reducing back up delays and long ambulance response times are one of Dr Marsh's priorities.

'As an immediate priority area the trust is looking to increase front-line staff on ambulances – particularly paramedic staffing. This is being addressed by recruiting student paramedics, with the recruitment campaign starting this week.

'Whilst it will take time for them to qualify as paramedics, student paramedics can be recruited in larger numbers and start their career development quickly. In the meantime they will be gaining valuable experience by working alongside qualified staff.'

Fraer Stevenson, Unison Women's Officer, who has been leading a campaign for a change to the A19 targets, added: 'Waiting nearly two hours for an ambulance and having a car on scene is really heartbreaking for the family and the clinician.

'They do not join to watch patients deteriorate – they join to help people. They have been let down by previous managers and I believe Anthony Marsh is on the right track but it is going to take time.'

For more information about the Change 19 campaign, visit

Have you experienced long delays waiting for an ambulance? Contact Adam Gretton on 01603 772419 or email

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