Complaints about East of England Ambulance delays in Norfolk and Suffolk rise

Complaints about ambulance delays have risen, as new figures show that crews in Norfolk and Suffolk continue to underperform in responding to 999 calls.

The East of England Ambulance Service has warned that missing targets could scupper its bid to become a foundation trust, as it raised concerns over delays caused by ambulances queuing outside emergency departments.

The service has a target to get to 75pc of the most serious category A calls within eight minutes, which it is meeting on a region-wide basis.

But new figures, obtained by the Eastern Daily Press under the freedom of information act, show that it failed to reach this benchmark in every single month in Norfolk in 2011, and it only reached it in three months in Suffolk. Overperformance in counties such as Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Essex means that it still reaches the regional target.

But it has failed in every month since July last year to hit the 95pc target for responding within 19 minutes for less serious emergency calls. A report to the service's board warns that if the trust fails to achieve this target for three successive quarters, it will incur a red governance rating and its bid to become a foundation trust will be void. The board papers also reveal that bad weather and 'extraordinary levels of hospital delays' at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital have hit its ability to meet targets in February.

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In the week ending February 19, more ambulances than ever were waiting outside the region's hospitals, with nine per cent waiting more than 60 minutes.

Ambulance crews aim to hand patients to accident and emergency staff within a maximum of 15 minutes – but the average handover time increased at the three Norfolk hospitals from 2009/10 to 2010/11. The N&N was the worst performer, with its transfer time increasing from 12 minutes and 11 seconds to 18 minutes and five seconds.

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N&N medical director professor Krishna Sethia said: 'We have a larger proportion of emergency admissions than other trusts in the region, cover a large rural area with an elderly population and we look after a high number of complex cases. Improving ambulance turnaround times requires a whole system approach and we are working together with the ambulance trust and other members of the health and social care community and actively looking for areas to improve.' A spokeswoman for the ambulance service said they expected to meet the target for the year end. 'In the highly unlikely event that we fail the target the foundation trust application could be put on hold for up to six months to give us the time to prove we are consistent in achieving the targets for the future.' The ambulance service's board meets on Wednesday, and will hear that there were 163 complaints received in the final three months of last year.

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