Hospital and ambulance bosses join forces to cut A&E waiting times and stop winter crisis

Anna Dugdale, CEO Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Anna Dugdale, CEO Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: copyright: Archant 2014

Health chiefs hope to see off the threat of an A&E waiting times crisis this winter through a raft of new measures and a slice of a £700 million fund.

Ambulance responses within target time to most urgent calls in 2014.

Ambulance responses within target time to most urgent calls in 2014. - Credit: Archant

Under a new system starting next week, paramedics will leave patients at A&E departments at Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire hospitals after 30 minutes rather than see their vehicles used as makeshift wards.

To cope with the extra strain this will place on staff, hospitals are using part of a £700 million Department of Health fund set aside to relieve winter pressure.

Map key: Green = 6 (Good) Red = 1 (bad)

It comes as the health service moves into its busiest period. Last week ambulances were forced to wait more than half-an-hour on hundreds of occasions outside the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH), giving them less time on the road to respond to calls.

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To stop this happening, the East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST) has written a letter to all hospitals in the region appealing for help in cutting waits between patients arriving in ambulances and being admitted to A&E, as demand grows on the region's emergency departments.

That demand was thrown into the national spotlight this weekend with patients asked to stay away from struggling Colchester Hospital's accident and emergency department unless they have a serious or life threatening condition.

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The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) is receiving £2.4 million of the government fund to ensure they meet patient demand through the winter.

Around £1.3 million is going on the reopening of a ward at the Julian Hospital in Norwich and £1.1 million is being spent on more staff in A&E.

It has also opened an urgent care centre for patients arriving at A&E who do not need to be seen by a specialist.

That should free up space for more patients to come into A&E.

Ambulance bosses believe long waits at emergency departments are causing response times to worsen.

Paramedics are meant to reach 75% of the most urgent or 'Red 1' calls within eight minutes.

But for September that figure was 42% in North Norfolk and South Norfolk and 67% in West Norfolk. In Norwich it was a more impressive 81%.

Matt Broad, EEAST locality director for Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, said the trust was working hard with all hospitals to make sure 'no patient faces a long delay' on arrival at A&E.

'Any ambulance delay at hospitals has a knock on effect on our ability to respond to other 999 calls and impacts on the number of ambulances available to attend emergencies.

'A number of measures have been put in place at emergency departments to help reduce pressure including the introduction of hospital ambulance liaison officer (HALO) roles and we also encourage the public to use alternatives to 999 and A&E.'

Hundreds of hours are lost every week at the region's hospitals due to handover delays.

In September, ambulance crews overshot the 15-minute target between arriving and unloading patients at the NNUH by a total of 469 hours.

A further 53 hours were lost at the James Paget Hospital in Great Yarmouth and almost 90 hours at West Suffolk Hospital.

A further 85 hours and 55 minutes were taken at Kings Lynn's Queen Elizabeth Hospital. That made Norfolk's and Suffolk's hospitals the worst in the region for handover delays.

Director of Operations at the James Paget Hospital Sue Watkinson said the hospital was in 'regular dialogue' with the ambulance service about handover times and said 'significant improvements' had been made this year.

A spokesman for West Suffolk Hospital said they 'constantly monitor' handover times.

Delays are caused by a lack of space at A&E departments. Paramedics have to wait for room and staff to free up before the patient can be unloaded.

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