Graphic: East of England ambulance boss behind bid to extend ambulance response times

East of England Ambulance Trust interim chief executive Anthony Marsh. Photo: Steve Adams

East of England Ambulance Trust interim chief executive Anthony Marsh. Photo: Steve Adams

The chief executive of the East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST) is behind plans to lengthen response times for ambulances to reach seriously-ill patients - a target his trust has repeatedly failed to hit.

Click here to view the East of England Ambulance Trust performance

A leaked document from the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives (AACE), of which EEAST chief executive Anthony Marsh is the chairman, states that the group has been lobbying the Department of Health and NHS England since February this year to reclassify emergency calls known as 'Red 2'.

They are the second most urgent calls and include strokes and seizures.

At the moment ambulances are supposed to reach 'Red 2' patients within eight minutes. The target is to reach 75 percent of calls in this time.

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But only two areas covered by the EEAST reached the target in October – Luton and Southend.

In North Norfolk just 37.8% of calls hit the target eight-minute response.

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According to the document, which was prepared for Dr Marsh, response times will be extended from eight minutes to 19 minutes for 43% of 'serious but not the most life threatening' calls.

Supporters of the plan say it will mean better equipped crews can get to patients.

The report said the AACE was 'confident that the changes offer the scope for substantial improvements for ambulance trusts.'

Crews will also be given extra time to get to patients for all but the most life-threatening calls with the clock starting after three minutes rather than after 60 seconds at the moment.

According to the report, the changes have been approved by NHS England and Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt.

But the Department of Health denied yesterday that a decision had already been made.

Labour's shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said Mr Hunt had treated Parliament with 'contempt' by not making the proposals public.

'It is outrageous that he decided to keep MPs and the public in the dark about a decision he had already taken and one which will have far-reaching implications across the NHS.'

The GMB Union branded the plans as 'ridiculous' and warned more patients would die.

But health minister Norman Lamb and UNISON's rep at the EEAST backed reforms to target times.

UNISON rep Fraer Stevenson said: 'A reform of targets is long overdue. A review of Red 1 (the most urgent) and Red 2 call categories could help focus resources where they're most needed; making sure the most critically ill and injured patients receive an eight minute response.'

She also called on the government to scrap a target known as A19 - the target time for a vehicle which can transport a patient to hospital to reach the scene.

But the target can be met by getting a car to the patient rather than an ambulance.

She said: 'Why have a target for transporting patients, if it is met by a vehicle not capable of transporting?

'This A19 'loop hole' needs to be closed to protect patients, particularly in rural areas, where long backup delays are caused by ambulance trusts manning rapid response vehicles over ambulances in order to claim this target.'

North Norfolk MP and care minister Norman Lamb said it was right for targets to be reformed to focus ambulances on the most urgent calls.

'Medical directors of ambulance trusts all take the view it needs to change,' he said. 'There are cases where there is no clinical basis to get an ambulance there in eight minutes. You then run the risk of missing the most urgent cases.'

Dr Marsh will leave the EEAST next year after overseeing some improvements in response times for 'Red 1' and recruiting hundreds of student paramedics.

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