Rethink on ambulance cover in Norfolk and Suffolk, in particular Cromer and North Walsham

PUBLISHED: 09:02 15 September 2012

East of England Ambulance Service

East of England Ambulance Service

Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2009

Ambulance service bosses say an unprecedented rise in 999 calls means they are taking another look at a controversial shake-up of cover and they have already agreed to amend heavily-criticised proposals for north Norfolk.

Rethink hailed as victory for public protest

The Cromer and North Walsham rethink has been welcomed and hailed as a victory for public protest.

Hilary Thompson, town, district and county councillor for Cromer, said: “It’s a shame they didn’t think about this a bit harder before going public on the cuts they were going to make. If they had looked at the figures properly first they could have saved a lot of angst and concern, but perhaps it was the public reaction that made them rethink. It just goes to show that when things like this happen, it’s important the public voice their opinions.”

Denise Burke, chairman of North Norfolk Labour Party, said the proposed cuts had sparked huge public concern and outrage, with some 5,000 people signing the party’s Act on Ambulances petition calling for a rethink.

She said: “Everyone knew with our ageing population in rural communities that demand was increasing and we have heard some horror stories about poor response times. We are pleased that the ambulance trust is listening and that north Norfolk will gain extra health emergency vehicles. This appears to be a major victory for people power.”

The Labour group is continuing the fight for better response times, particularly in North Walsham, and will present its petition to the ambulance service board on September 26. Meanwhile, campaigners will be out in Hoveton from 9.30am today collecting more signatures.

Dave Robertson, mayor of North Walsham, said: “It’s an improvement on what we’ve got now, and a considerable improvement on what was first proposed but the devil will be in the detail - it will depend on how the paramedics respond to those shift changes and how those hours are used.”

Campaigners have previously slammed plans to reduce the hours of double-staffed ambulance cover in Cromer and North Walsham, saying the changes to staffing would harm patient care.

Now the East of England Ambulance Service says because it has had higher than expected demand since April, it has an extra £3m and will be using the windfall to increase the cover in the two towns, with a view to adding in more cover across the rest of Norfolk and Suffolk.

The service would normally expect demand to be three per cent higher than the year before, but since April it has had a six to seven per cent increase, meaning it has responded to around 21,000 extra 999 calls compared to the year before.

This has triggered a clause in its contract, which means it is going to get an extra £3m to cover the rise.

Chief executive Hayden Newton said because the surge had been sustained for almost six months it was not expected to drop again and the service wanted to honour commitments to reassess its rota redesign, which is aimed to better match when 999 calls are high to when cover is provided but has proved controversial with staff.

Mr Newton said: “We listened to the views of the public and the views of MPs and our staff and we have always said that if demand increases then we would look again at our resources. This is what we are now doing.”

He said the changes were still needed as in Norfolk and Suffolk there was too much cover during the week and not enough at weekends and the service would also be looking take more costs out around support services and back office functions.

Under the proposals, one of Cromer’s two full-time double-staffed ambulances (DSA) was to go part-time to just two days, providing 20 hours on one day and 12 on another, while its one part-time rapid response vehicle (RRV) was to be increased to full-time.

Those proposals still remain, but the service said it will now add to them an extra double-staffed ambulance which will provide 20 hours of a cover a day, seven days a week. This means overall Cromer’s will get an extra four hours of DSA cover and an extra 52 hours of RRV cover.

North Walsham was due to lose its full-time DSA, to be replaced by a full-time RRV. This will still happen, but it will now get a part-time DSA, providing 16 hours of cover a day, seven days a week. Overall it will lose 56 DSA hours of cover and gain 168 hours of RRV cover.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said: “It’s a step in the right direction, reinstating most, but not all of the cover that we have had in Cromer and North Walsham, but I take the view that it’s not nearly enough to address the continued and consistent under performance we have seen in response times in north Norfolk over many yeas now.”

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