Ambulance Service - rising to a huge challenge

Last Friday at their new Crawley operations centre I met the (relatively) new Chief Executive of the South East Coast Ambulance Service, Darren Mochrie. “SECAmb” covers Surrey, Kent and Sussex: a population of 5 million (with considerably more older people than the national average).

It is easy to forget the transformation that is happened within the ambulance service. Among the many impressive stories I hear from constituents are how expert paramedics have stabilised patients, engaged diagnostic equipment (with results being transmitted real time to the hospital) and transferred the patient safely to the best centre to treat their condition - allowing a fully briefed team to conduct immediately lifesaving operations.

At the other end of the spectrum in many cases paramedics – using the same diagnostic equipment –stabilise patients and can even safely discharge them home without any hospital visit being required.

There are 3,500 ambulance employees and 600 volunteer Community First Responders – who get notified of incidences in their local community at the same time as the ambulance service and are often in a position to provide immediate support.

What the service delivers has changed – but so has demand. In 2004/5 there were 450,000 ambulance “999” calls. In 2016/17 this had more than doubled to over 1 million.

Calls are divided into four categories. SECamb has been averaging an 8 minute response for the most urgent but is close to hitting the 7 minute target. It is otherwise exceeding average response targets. However what is apparent is underperformance in its “Category 3” calls before Christmas – including awful incidents (reported in the County Times) of patients with fractures having to wait for hours.

I am very conscious that this most visible part of our NHS depends on every other. If handovers are delayed in A&E ambulances are kept waiting when they could be on their next call, if every time an (uninjured) patient who falls over in social care or at home needs ambulance assistance rather than other trained support this too has a huge impact on the service. SECamb are posting improvements but I recognise this is part of a wider picture and I am seeing them again soon to track progress.

Photo caption: With John Franklin, the new Head of Christ’s Hospital School and students for a wide ranging political discussion on politics at the school last week.