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Unprecedented calls push ambulance trust to ‘severe pressure’ status

The North East Ambulance Service NHS FT has changed its operational status to ‘severe pressure’, meaning that while it will attempt to operate a normal service, its response standard to potentially life-threatening calls has deteriorated.

The news comes just two weeks after London’s ambulance service was placed in special measures after it received a CQC rating of ‘inadequate’ – the first time the watchdog and NHS Trust Development Authority have had to take this step for an ambulance trust.

Today, the North East trust has lifted its status to REAP 3 [Resource Escalation Action Plan]. REAP, a national framework, has four levels designed to maintain an effective and safe operational and clinical response.

This now means that all but one ambulance service in England has raised its REAP level as a consequence of sinking response time standards to calls. Last week in the north east, only 61% of calls were attended within eight minutes, against a national target of 75%.

But demand has a bigger part in this than anything else, the trust said. On Monday (7 December) alone, its control room staff received an unprecedented 1,837 emergency 999 and urgent calls – comparable to the demand usually seen on New Year’s Eve. This was also 46% higher than the number of calls received at the same time last year.

Almost 2,000 calls were also taken by the trust’s 111 service.

Clinically qualified managers will now be sent to frontline duties and will be deployed to A&E departments to “manage turnaround”.

The trust is digging into winter resilience funds to increase the operational resources available, with additional overtime and use of third party resources. Non-essential meetings and training have been called off.

Paul Liversidge, its chief operating officer, said: “We are experiencing severe pressures in responding to emergency calls. With the shortage of paramedics and the additional pressures across the wider NHS network causing delays in ambulance turnaround times at hospitals, we have taken the decision to move the service to level 3 to protect our most vulnerable patients.

“Please help us reach those patients who need us most by using 999 wisely. Please think before you pick up the phone. Turning up to hospital in an ambulance does not mean you will be seen any quicker.”

Today’s move also follows a series of other schemes implemented to try to ease pressures over winter, such as by increasing the amount of clinicians in the control room to support 999 call-takers and offer advice for patients who could be treated without needing an ambulance.

And hospital ambulance liaison officer are now supporting paramedic crews and emergency departments to minimise the delays in patient handover. They are also helping to free paramedic time at hospitals by using assistants to clean and re-stock ambulances during patient handover.


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