Ambulance Watch: Health minister urged to act

Ambulances outside A&E at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

Ambulances outside A&E at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2008

The minister for ambulance services has yet to visit East Anglia to see the scale of the problem facing the under-performing East of England Ambulance Service, the EDP can reveal.

Health minister Earl Howe, who is responsible for urgent and emergency care as part of his role in the coalition government, last visited the region three years ago to open a new ambulance trust headquarters in Cambridgeshire.

But the hereditary peer has yet to visit Norfolk or Suffolk to see for himself the problems the East of England Ambulance Service is facing in failing to hit response time targets and its ongoing issues over slow ambulance turnaround times at hospitals.

The minister, who has been in a health role since 2010, yesterday declined an interview with the EDP with a Department of Health spokesman saying he was 'too busy'.

Colleagues said the minister was well aware of the problems facing the East of England Ambulance Service and he was due to meet all East Anglian MPs about the performance of the trust later this month in Westminster.

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North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb, below, who is health minister for care and support within the coalition government, said he had met Lord Howe on a number of occasions to discuss his concerns about national ambulance response targets and leadership at the ambulance trust, which covers Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire.

'I have had a pretty relentless focus on this for the last 18 months and my great frustration is that I have had assurances from the ambulance trust that things have changed and they have not and I will not relent until it is sorted,' he said.

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East Anglian MPs are set to meet the chief executive and chairman of the ambulance trust next week to find out how the NHS trust plans to improve. A report by the Care Quality Commission is also due to be published next week after an unannounced inspection by the health regulator.

Peter Aldous, MP for Waveney, said some MPs were keen to see the return of the East Anglian Ambulance Trust, which covered Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, but merged with three other 'incompatible' counties in 2006. 'I think we would have to say that this is a merger too far. It is a mistake and lessons need to learnt.'

'It would be very costly to end it and we have to see what we can do to make it work,' he said.

The ambulance service is currently failing to respond to 75pc of A8-category emergency calls within eight minutes and 95pc of A19 calls in 19 minutes. Response times in Norfolk are the worst across all six counties with crews reaching just 62.7pc of life-threatening calls in eight minutes in January.

See today's EDP for more.

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