Ambulance Watch: Axe threat to new 999 team introduced in wake of Thetford crash tragedy
A specialist medical team which helps ambulance staff treat patients in life-or-death situations is in jeopardy, the EDP can reveal today.
Doctors have urged health chiefs to find the funds to save the 'essential' service amid fears that axing it would harm the care given to patients in emergencies.
The East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST) set up the critical care desk (CCD) in August last year in the wake of the death of veterinary nurse Catherine Barton in a car crash near Thetford. Located in Chelmsford, the CCD keeps a track of the ambulance service's doctors and critical care teams, gives advice to paramedics and sends out extra resources such as the air ambulance.
Miss Barton, 27, from Brandon, died in August 2011 after being left in her wrecked Ford Ka for more than 90 minutes.
At her inquest in January, the ambulance service and paramedic who treated her were both criticised for their failings.
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The trust said it was learning lessons from its failures and had set-up the 24-hour critical care desk to improve its response to life-or-death calls.
But the EDP has learnt the desk could now be scrapped - just seven months after opening.
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Funding for the CCD ends on March 31 and Norfolk Primary Care Trust (PCT) will not commit to funding the team after that date, putting its future in jeopardy.
One ambulance source said the team's future was 'not looking hopeful' come April, although an official statement from the service said discussions about funding were ongoing.
Meanwhile, the CCD has received the backing from Dr Andy Mason, who responds to emergency calls for the ambulance service in Norfolk and Suffolk for charity SARS.
He said: 'A fully funded CCD is the best insurance against another tragedy occurring.
'The establishment of the critical care desk was a very important initiative.
'It is really essential that these people who fund it understand its importance and continue the funding.
'I cannot emphasis enough how important it is that we have a specialist facility like this for calling out advanced medical resources in the east of England.'
Helen Dodman from the East Anglian Air Ambulance said the service worked well with the critical care desk.
She said: 'It works well because the paramedics on the desk also fly in the air ambulance so they know which incidents need an air ambulance.'
The scheme was given funding from the ambulance commissioning consortium - part of Norfolk and Waveney PCT - and the trust is now trying to secure money for the future by presenting a paper to the PCT detailing the impact that the CCD has had since it opened in August 2012.
But the PCT, which changes to a Clinical Commission Group (CCG) on April 1, has told the trust it does not have the money to fund the critical care desk and suggested that the trust should keep it going by making its own savings.
Health minister and North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said he would talk to CCGs about the funding for the care desk, but stressed it was the ambulance service which was charged with providing proper care for patients in the region.
A spokeswoman for the PCT said: 'As the critical care desk was in pilot stage, there is the need to have in-depth discussions as to the findings of the pilot scheme.'
A spokeswoman for the ambulance service said: 'Discussions regarding funding to extend the CCD pilot are ongoing between EEAST and its commissioners. As far as EEAST is concerned, the pilot was very successful and we would like to see specific funding continue in order to safeguard its future.'
The EDP launched its Ambulance Watch campaign in response to concerns over the East of England Ambulance Service Trust's performance.