Ambulance Watch: What you said in response to our survey

Last month the EDP launched its Ambulance Watch campaign, and urged readers to have their say on the East of England Ambulance Service Trust.

More than 220 people responded and told us of their concerns, which included reports of waits of up to 14 hours for an ambulance and waits of up to three hours in ambulances outside A&E departments.

But we also heard from patients who have had a good experience when calling 999 for medical care.

Many of those who told us about their cases were those who had had heart attacks or strokes, which are two of the most urgent clinical call-outs that the service receives and which will certainly override most other calls.

And the care provided by the ambulance service's staff was also rated very highly.

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But other experiences highlighted unacceptably long waits for people who may not have had immediately life-threatening conditions, but were still gravely ill, such as elderly people who had fallen and broken a hip and were subsequently left lying where they fell for hours.

Readers responded in a variety of ways, either by filling in our survey online, cutting out and sending in the survey form we printed in the paper, or sending us emails about their experiences.

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It is clear that many of the respondents felt strongly about the service, and views were very much polarised between those who felt it provided a fantastic and 'flawless' service and others who felt let down by poor rural response times and long waits for ambulances to take patients to hospital.

Here are some of the results:

• The EDP asked: If you were transported to hospital, how long did you wait in the ambulance before being handed over to hospital staff?

The knock-on effect on EEAST operations due to ambulances backing up outside hospital A&Es has been a well-publicised problem over the past year, with the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital highlighted as one of the poorest performing hospitals in the region in terms of the amount of time it takes for ambulances taking patients there to be able to return to duty.

The 'appalling waste of money and resources' when crews have to wait outside A&E departments for a bed or staff to become available for their patient was also high on the list for readers.

Two respondents said they felt the new Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital had been built in the wrong location to serve north Norfolk and that it was not large enough, leading to problems with bed availability and therefore ambulance turnaround times.

Patients who were taken to hospital by ambulance and had to wait to be handed over to A&E staff, told us they spent three hours at the most, with 24 of the 53 respondents saying they had no wait, or waited less than 15 minutes.

Where a time was given between two times, or as 'more than' a certain time, we used the lowest figure given.

A total of 16 people told us of waits of more than two hours.

The average time spent waiting to be handed over to A&E staff was 58 minutes.

• Do you have any concerns about the East of England Ambulance Service? If so, what is your main concern?

Readers highlighted a whole range of issues they would like to see addressed by the ambulance service.

Respondents said they were as frustrated as the frontline staff who attend calls in rapid response vehicles and experience long waits for back-up ambulances to transport a patient to hospital.

Many readers felt there was a shortage of frontline staff and vehicles, and said a rapid response vehicle instead of an ambulance was not always the answer.

'If an ambulance was required in the first place, there is inevitably going to be a delay in receiving hospital treatment,' wrote one reader.

There were also concerns about the use of private ambulance services, and the level of weekend cover.

Others felt the shortfalls in geographical cover and the number of ambulances had led to ambulances being sent to emergencies a long way away, with one reader saying they had an ambulance from Cambridgeshire sent to them in south Norfolk.

A handful raised worries about crews' satellite navigation systems being unable to correctly find some very rural addresses in Norfolk, particularly in Stockton and Wells-next-the-Sea, while another reader said crews are repeatedly sent into one end of King Street in Thetford only to find that part of it is pedestrianised and they have a long trip around to get to the other end.

Some readers said they did not have confidence in the way that calls are handled and prioritised.

However, a few respondents were keen to point out that they felt the public no longer understands when an ambulance should and should not be called, so the service was having to deal with inappropriate cases.

Concerns were also raised about the influx of holidaymakers adding pressure on an already busy service.

Non-emergency hospital transport services were also criticised, with some patients feeling organisers of this service do not give the crews sufficient time for journeys and others feeling it is inappropriate for this service to be using the same vehicles as for emergencies.

• Did you experience a wait for an ambulance to transport you to hospital, and if so how long was that wait?

Clearly our respondents would have been more likely to get in touch with us following a poor experience, and that seemed to be the case when we crunched the numbers on how long they told us they had waited for ambulances.

Waits for an ambulance ranged from 14 hours to barely any wait at all.

There were 74 responses where a time for a wait was given.

Where a time was given between two times, or as 'more than' a certain time, we used the lowest figure given.

Of the 74 respondents, 40 said they waited more than two hours, while 23 waited more than four hours.

Six said they waited less than 10 minutes.

The average time spent waiting for an ambulance was exactly three hours.

• What do you think the ambulance service does well?

The front-line staff employed by the ambulance service and the care they provide was top of the list for people responding to this question in our survey.

They were described as 'very calming and professional people' who are 'very well trained to deal with people that may be agitated and hurt'.

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