Hundreds of new paramedics and ambulances to be funded by £15m after intense winter crisis
- Credit: Archant
An extra 330 staff are to be recruited as part of a multi-million pound boost for the region's under-pressure ambulance service to help it cope with an intense rise in demand.
The East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST) will also benefit from 160 more ambulances over the next three years as part of a funding increase which could see a rise of £15m between 2018/19 and 2019/20.
Robert Morton, EEAST's chief executive, said the resource will enable the ambulance service to meet rising demand across the region in the wake of one of the most difficult winters in its history, with one whistleblower claiming patients were left waiting several hours for ambulances.
But while welcoming the move, MPs have remained sceptical – with North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb saying he has 'lost confidence' in the leadership of EEAST following last winter's problems and does not believe they will spend the money 'wisely or effectively'.
Mr Morton said the money is 'an excellent step forward as we aim to ease the strain on our existing staff who work incredibly hard for patients'. He added: 'That strain has been evident particularly over the last few months, during the increased demand which winter pressures always brings to the NHS.'
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According to an EEAST service review in March, the new staff and fleet will help them meet a seven-minute Category 1 response time by the first quarter of 2019/20.
It assumes handover delays will return to 2015/16 levels for most acute hospitals in the region.
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Between mid-December last year and early January 2017, the region's NHS came under intense pressure as demand on services spiked.
While the region's MPs have welcomed the funding announcement, they doubt it alone will alleviate the pressures on the health service.
North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said: 'The problem we have had has been endemic in the ambulance service for years and is not just about money.
'You have to look at the whole emergency care system and ensure hospitals have capacity to cope with the number of ambulances arriving.
'Unless you sort that out you won't resolve the problem or deliver a reliable, safe emergency care system.
'I have to conclude, after everything I have seen this winter, that I do not have confidence in the leadership of the ambulance service to use this money wisely or effectively. I believe change is necessary.'
He added he has raised his concerns on Thursday in a meeting with Deloitte, which is conducting a governance review of EEAST.
Norwich South MP Clive Lewis said the new money 'will not solve the fragmentation of the NHS, which is happening at a rate of knots'.
'Even though I am increasingly confident the new money will improve this particular service, they are still reliant on other parts of the NHS working properly,' he said.
'If that doesn't happen it doesn't make a difference how well the ambulance trust is funded.
'What was once an holistic whole has been broken up into an organisation of competing components with their own targets and set of priorities.
'It can't just be the ambulance service getting extra funding, we also need to ensure we have better integration in NHS services and acute services properly funded as well as primary health care.'
Six year investment contract
A consortium of 19 clinical commissioners have signed the six-year contract with the ambulance service.
The deal followed recommendations made in a report looking at the operational and financial needs of the trust.
It will see ambulance service funding increase from £225m in 2018/19 to £240m. However that is subject to 'activity remaining as predicted'.
Ed Garratt, chief officer for Ipswich and East Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which is lead commissioner for the 19 CCGs which pay for EEAST services, said: 'Commissioners have committed significant additional investment over the next two years to increase both staffing and ambulance vehicle levels.
'Everyone involved is determined to make the necessary lasting improvements to enable well-supported staff to deliver the very best urgent care services for patients.'