Shock fall in 999 medical response times in north Norfolk
Emergency crews' response times to people suffering life-threatening medical conditions have dropped dramatically in north Norfolk, despite improvements in other areas of the county.
The situation has been described as 'completely intolerable' by North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb.
Department of Health targets dictate that East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST) staff should arrive at 75pc of all Red 1 calls - cardiac arrests where patients are not breathing – within eight minutes.
Ambulances have to arrive at 95pc of these incidents, as well as Red 2 calls - emergencies including serious strokes, chest pain and breathing difficulties - within 19 minutes, known as as A19 performance.
In April 2014 the number of crews reaching Red 1 calls within eight minutes was 52.17pc - but in April this year it had plummeted to 38.89pc.
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The lowest monthly response figure over the past year was 25pc in May 2014 and the highest was 58.97pc in January this year.
Mr Lamb wants to raise the problem with the trust's chief executive Dr Anthony Marsh.
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Both the MP and Denise Burke, chairman of North Norfolk Labour Party which launched an Act on Ambulances campaign, said the national response targets needed to be reviewed as they were 'not realistic' in a rural area like north Norfolk.
To help boost the service, an extra ambulance, staffed by two paramedics, is due to run from Cromer ambulance station 10 hours a day, seven days a week.
Cromer already has three 24/7 double-staffed ambulances.
North Walsham ambulance station has one 24/7 double-staffed ambulance and a rapid response vehicle running 37.5 hours a week.
Sheringham has a rapid response vehicle running 18 hours a day, seven days a week.
Matt Broad, EEAST locality director for Norfolk, said: 'Our staff are working hard to improve response times and patient care in north Norfolk, despite increased demand. Over the last year, we have increased the number of ambulances based at Cromer and Fakenham.'
Calls to the ambulance service in north Norfolk rose by 7.8pc in 2014/15 compared to 2013/14.
In April this year there were 35 Red 1 calls in the North Norfolk Clinical Commissioning Group area, compared with 22 Red 1 calls in April last year.
Mr Lamb said: 'We cannot tolerate poor response times in north Norfolk. It is probably the most remote part of the region. The people of north Norfolk deserve the best possible standard of response.'
He praised the 'amazing' and 'dedicated' paramedics but said they were being pooled too much into Norwich.
The MP also said north Norfolk had lost its community-based paramedics who used to be connected to north Norfolk health teams and GP practices.
But he added response times would always be lower in rural areas like north Norfolk compared to urban communities because staff and ambulances needed to travel greater distances.
Mrs Burke said meeting the eight minute response targets in north Norfolk was 'near on impossible' and ambulance service targets needed to be relevant to particular areas.
She added ambulances were not always being used for their purpose - emergency situations - because of pressures on the overall health service and north Norfolk ambulances were sometimes taken out of the area for a whole day.
'It is disappointing we are lagging behind other areas. It is not acceptable, but understandable. We have got a broken system and we have got to review the whole ambulance service,' she said.
Ambulance crews also have to respond to 75pc of Red 2 calls within eight minutes and in April 2014 the figure in north Norfolk was 42.16pc. That increased to 53.49pc in April this year.
The A19 performance has also improved in north Norfolk, from 75.55pc in April 2014 to 89.28pc in April this year.