MPs grill ambulance boss over Norfolk’s poor response times

The chief executive of the region's ambulance service has been grilled by MPs over Norfolk's poor response times.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb was one of two MPs who secured the meeting with Hayden Newton, chief executive of the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust (EEAST), after concerns were raised over response times in Norfolk and Suffolk, and long delays in sending out back-up ambulances to transport people to hospital.

The service has to reach 75pc of the most serious 'category A' calls within eight minutes.

But this target only has to be met on a region-wide basis, and the very latest figures show that from October 2010 to September 2011, the trust did not manage to meet this target in any month in Norfolk.

And only in August and September 2011 has it managed to exceed that threshold in Suffolk.

Back-up ambulance delays are also a concern and in August the Evening News told how a Thorpe Village FC footballer whose leg was broken during a match had to lie in the middle of the pitch for an hour and a quarter for an ambulance to arrive.

Paramedics in a response car arrived at the sports ground on the outskirts of Norwich within minutes of the 999 call, but Ryan Smith, from Catton, was left on the pitch in agony as an ambulance could not be sent until more than an hour later.

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Mr Lamb, who was accompanied by Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP Dan Poulter at the meeting, said there was recognition at the meeting that the region-wide target had been detrimental and unfair to rural areas.

He said: 'We made it abundantly clear that we did not feel that the service was at an acceptable level at present in rural areas and they accepted that there has been short falls which mean patients have been left too long.'

Mr Lamb also revealed he has reported the issue to the Care Quality Commission and he will be requesting an update in six months from the ambulance service, to see if the situation improves.

Following the meeting, Mr Newton said there has been a steady improvement in response times across the trust since 2006, particularly in Norfolk and Suffolk, but hard work was still going on to build on these improvements.

He said: 'Evidence shows we are actually treating more patients faster than ever before with ever more sophisticated clinical care. This is against more stringent time and quality targets – the toughest in the world – and record demand following a 15pc rise in the number of calls in the last three years. The trust continues to exceed its response time targets across the region thanks to the hard work of our staff and volunteers.

'As a direct result in recent months of significantly improving the times it takes to reach the highest priority patients – life threatening category A calls – we recognise providing speedy back up ambulances to transport patients to hospital has become an issue, but we are working hard to address this with a comprehensive, robust plan which includes a range of initiatives to ensure more resources are readily available.'