Call to end Norfolk and Suffolk’s ‘second rate’ ambulance service

Ambulances outside the ambulance station at the QEH.

Ambulances outside the ambulance station at the QEH. - Credit: IAN BURT

Calls were made to address Norfolk and Suffolk's 'second rate' ambulance service as the application process for its new chief executive ended.

MPs and union officials last night called on the East of England Ambulance Service to restore public confidence and improve response times in rural areas after it emerged that Norfolk was the worst performing across six counties.

Yesterday marked the final day for applications for the £145,000 a year chief executive post following the retirement of Hayden Newton last year.

And Norfolk and Suffolk MPs have called on whoever gets the job to restore staff morale and improve ambulance response times at a time when the service is looking to make £50m worth of efficiency savings over the next four years.

The NHS trust is currently failing to hit its target of responding to 68pc of category A8 emergency calls in eight minutes in Norfolk and the 75pc target for the region, which resulted in the service not getting foundation trust status last month.

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MPs have challenged the new person at the helm to:

• Make sure patients in rural areas get a fair deal.

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• Listen to staff over concerns about rota redesigns.

• Reduce the reliance on rapid response vehicles and deploy more double staffed ambulances.

• Work with hospital trusts to resolve ambulance handover delays.

North Norfolk MP and health minister Norman Lamb said there needed to be a review and re-assessment of ambulance targets after it emerged that there was an over reliance on sending rapid response vehicles out to 999 calls to hit response targets, but taking a long time to get patients to hospital.

He said: 'Crucially we need someone who understands ambulance systems and urgent care and can get the system working collaboratively with others and someone who can get the best out of the high quality staff who are disillusioned and frustrated.'

'Their number one priority is addressing the unacceptable situation in Norfolk. It has gone on for years and Norfolk people and Norfolk patients are getting a second rate service compared to the rest of the region,' he said.

Former Norfolk NHS chief Andrew Morgan became interim chief executive at the East of England Ambulance Trust last month, who has expressed his desire to do the job on a permanent basis.

Tim Roberts, regional organiser for the ambulance service at Unison, said part of the problem at the trust was the £50m of spending cuts that had been 'imposed' on the trust by the government.

He added that there needed to be more double staffed ambulances as staff were 'frustrated' at arriving at incidents in single staffed vehicles and did not have the means of getting patients to hospital.

'I think there has been a detachment between trust management and the workforce and the new chief executive is trying to build bridges. He does not want the trust to get the kicking it has been getting. I think we can provide a way forward if the new chief executive continues to work with staff to come up with different solutions to make sure the best quality service is provided,' he said.

An independent review has been launched to look at ambulance capacity in the region and the NHS trust, which employs 4,000 people, and is also looking to recruit 140 extra frontline staff. A NHS Norfolk and Waveney meeting heard this week that staff sickness rates at the ambulance service had risen to above 8pc with long-term sickness at nearly 5pc.

Therese Coffey, MP for Suffolk Coastal, who is campaigning for the ambulance trust to breakdown its response times by postcode, said: 'There are fewer and fewer paramedics around. They are waiting longer and longer for ambulances to show up when they are needed. It is pretty horrendous. It is not unique for Suffolk and it is not unique for Norfolk, but it is acutely felt in rural areas.'

'The lack of transparency, lack of openness and defensiveness and all the time spent on foundation trust shows that members of the entire board have lost the plot and they need to focus on what they are really there for,' she said.

Peter Aldous, MP for Waveney, added the trust, which covers six counties, appeared to be too big, with a focus on urban and built-up areas, which meant patients in Norfolk, Suffolk, and Cambridgeshire were missing out. He added that the solution to resolving ambulance handover issues at hospitals rested with all organisations in the NHS.

'When you manage by targets there is a danger of becoming obsessed with meeting targets rather than providing first class health care,' he said.

The ambulance service said it had recruited 123 emergency care assistants, who are currently in training, and will be on the road by the end of March. A spokesman said 23 experienced paramedics are joining in the next few weeks and the trust was still recruiting.

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