Ambulance trust could call on military for support in winter

An East of England Ambulance Trust ambulance. Photograph Simon Parker

An East of England Ambulance Trust ambulance. Photograph Simon Parker - Credit: Archant

Norfolk's ambulance trust is preparing to call in the military for support when winter pressure bites.

In a report to Norfolk county councillors, the East of England Ambulance Trust (EEAST) has outlined plans for when demand increases over the winter months.

The report says: "EEAST, along with the rest of the NHS, are anticipating further activity this winter.

"As the Covid-19 pandemic continues, we work with regional colleagues to prepare for the increase in patients."

The plans include:

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  • Putting in place contingency plans to call in military and fire service support with emergency and non-emergency services if required
  • Not sending ambulances to non-urgent patients and directing them to more appropriate services
  • Increasing overtime levels for existing staff
  • Recruiting extra staff to take 999 calls
  • Increasing use of private ambulances

The trust already drew on army support last month, calling a small number of military drivers for non-urgent patient transport services.

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On Thursday, Marcus Bailey, chief operating officer at EEAST, told councillors on the Norfolk health overview and scrutiny committee that this was the most sustained pressurised period he had experienced in his 23 years with the trust.

Mr Bailey said: "The pressure on urgent and emergency care is still sustained and already we are enacting some of our winter plans approach in order to get that sustainability from summer into winter as well." 

Mr Bailey stressed to the committee that Covid was not over and they needed to be clear about the impact on staff and patients, but also the indirect impact on staff's health and wellbeing.

The trust is one of eight trusts in the country still at its highest escalation levels, based on 999 calls and activity. 

Dr Victoria Holliday addressed the committee about North Norfolk ambulance times.

Dr Holliday said the area had suffered from slow response times before Covid, and it was unclear it the pandemic had made the situation worse.

She said: "I spoke to two paramedics in a rapid response vehicle who had come to see a very sick neighbour and they said they were the only vehicle in the patch on Sunday morning, everyone else had gone into Norwich." 

EEAST was contacted to discuss the winter pressure issues but did not respond.

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