Patients calling for an ambulance could be sent to hospital by taxi

Robert Morton, chief executive of the East of England Ambulance Service Trust.

Robert Morton, chief executive of the East of England Ambulance Service Trust. - Credit: Su Anderson

Patients who call for an ambulance could be taken to hospital in a taxi under new plans being considered to relieve pressure on the region's stretched service.

It can also be revealed that the East of England Ambulance Service plans to increase use of private ambulances in the short term – despite chief executive Robert Morton suggesting otherwise in a Q&A with the East Anglian Daily Times last month.

Among the items in the trust's board meeting agenda is an action plan – which also features the launch of a new scheme where patients are transferred to another hospital if their closest one is experiencing a surge in demand.

Hundreds of members will receive an update on the trust's progress at the meeting, which will take place in Luton on Wednesday.

The proposals come as the service received 10% more 999 calls in February than in the same month last year. Each action point has been drawn up in response to rising demand and 'significant hospital handover delays' experienced by the trust this year.

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A spokesman said: 'The ambulance service, and its staff, are under increasing pressure due to the significant increase in demand, the acuity of our patients, and the need to abstract staff so they can continue their student paramedic education.

'As a result, we've actioned a number of measures aimed primarily at improving services to patients and relieving some pressure on staff'.

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The service is exploring whether using taxis would be a viable option to collect patients who may need a hospital medical assessment. But such patients will not have serious or life-threatening injuries, and will be perfectly mobile.

'This means the person is getting the treatment they need quicker and the ambulance is freed up to deal with a potentially life threatening patient in the local community', said the spokesman.

And the region-wide concept of 'load levelling', rolled out on March 5, means that 'appropriate patients' can be taken elsewhere than the closest hospital if it is experiencing a surge in demand at A&E.

A patient from Felixstowe, for example, may be transferred to West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds if Ipswich Hospital is too busy.

Load-levelling is a system built to tackle hospital handover delays – which result in ambulances not being able to respond to patients waiting for them.

'This is better for everyone as the patient will have a shorter wait before getting the assessment and treatment in the hospital environment, the ambulance is available more quickly to respond to the next patient, and the hospital can better manage its capacity', the spokesman added.

When chief executive Robert Morton's spoke to the EADT in February, he revealed that the trust 'spent a huge amount of money on private ambulance services (PAS) and ran a deficit' and vowed to reduce expenditure on outside paramedics.

But despite his remarks, a third item on the agenda's action plan suggests the service is increasing its use of PAS – and will continue to do so.

In the 12 months to October last year, latest figures reveal that £8,251,266.29 was spent on private and voluntary ambulance services – with more than £1million being paid out per month in January, February and April.

The spokesman added: 'Our long-term ambition is to reduce the amount of private ambulance service provision we require, and today we have released details of the next ambitious phase of our recruitment plans.

'Increasing our patient-facing staffing reduces our reliance on private ambulances, but the short-term reality is that we need their support to improve our service to patients.

'Our long-term plan includes maximising the number of clinical staff on duty in patient-facing roles, increasing our clinical staffing in our control rooms, working with our hospitals and clinical commissioning groups to tackle hospital handover delays, and asking the public to make the right call.

'If someone needs help but it is not an emergency, there are the options of calling 111 or visiting a pharmacy or minor injuries unit'.

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