Army could be needed to tackle ambulance crisis

Blame the government for the pressure on the EEAST says David Russell. Picture: Simon Parker

The army could be used if winter pressure bite in Norwich

The army could be called in to help prop up Norwich's emergency services if the pressure reaches breaking point.

Norfolk county councillors have been warned by the East of England Ambulance Trust (EEAST) that the army may need to be drafted in to ensure people are not put at risk during the winter months.

A report to the council said: "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 worst-case-scenario 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

Last month the trust drew on army support relying on a small number of military drivers for non-urgent patient transport services.

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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 also addressed the meeting about ambulance times.

She added that 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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