Peter Aldous highlights challenges to the ambulance service

Waveney MP Peter Aldous has spoken about the challenges facing the East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST) in a debate with other East Anglian MPs.

Speaking in a Westminster Hall debate about the performance of the EEAST, Aldous commended the work of staff on the front-line and urged for greater focus on both patients and staff.

Peter Aldous raised concerns that if the recommendations made in the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust’s (EEAST) turnaround plan in April are implemented in an uncoordinated way, the problems with the ambulance service will not be addressed. He highlighted cases in his Waveney constituency whereby response times had been unacceptably long and people’s lives had been placed at risk.

Having seen for himself how the service runs from the Waveney Depot, Aldous identified the following issues:-

  • The job on the frontline places significant pressures on staff members. Shifts invariably overrun and there is little understanding of the challenges and pressures by the trust’s senior management.
  • There are too few ambulances on the road and cars are not properly deployed.
  • Handover delays at hospitals are a major challenge, particularly at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital.
  • There has been failure to work properly with voluntary first-responder groups to provide cover in the more isolated rural areas.

Peter Aldous is concerned that whilst the Trust’s plan includes 89 recommendations, there is a need for implementing them in a pinpointed and targeted way. He commented:

“It was a helpful debate where findings and opinions were exchanged. The Trust has set out a coherent strategy as to how they propose to address the many challenges facing the Trust and doing so, it is vital that they have full regard of the needs of staff so as to transport patients to hospital in an efficient and prompt way.”

Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con): I will try to keep to your timetable, Mr Howarth, but if I do not, please intervene.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel) for this debate. In the middle of last year, it hit home to me that there are serious problems with the ambulance service and that they are placing people’s lives at risk. The trickle of complaints became a torrent. When an elderly lady suffered a stroke, the paramedics and rapid response vehicle arrived within 10 or 15 minutes, but the ambulance to take her to hospital did not arrive for another 105 minutes. A gentleman in Lowestoft fell off his bike and it took 90 minutes for the ambulance to arrive from Ipswich, some 45 miles away. A 90-year-old disabled gentleman fell at home when going to bed and his 84-year-old wife was unable to help him. It took four and a half hours for an ambulance to arrive.

Only in December did the ambulance trust agree to carry out a full review of operations, and that was when I spent two evenings with crews working out of the Waveney depot in Gorleston in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis). Those evenings left me with three lasting impressions.

First, all the staff I met were dedicated professionals, but they were worn down by the pressures of the job. Their pleas for understanding to the trust’s senior management fell on deaf ears. On those two evenings, we were on the go from the moment we left the depot. There was no time for meals or comfort breaks, and I was told that 12-hour night shifts almost invariably became 13 or 14-hour shifts.

Secondly, it became clear to me that the trust did not have the right balance of vehicles on the road. There were too many cars and not enough ambulances. There is concern that the cars are used to reach patients quickly and to meet targets—effectively acting as clock-stoppers. If an ambulance is then required to take a patient to hospital, there can be a long delay before it arrives, and for a stroke victim that could be very serious.

Thirdly, based on what staff told me, it was clear that the handover delays at district general hospitals are a major reason why the service is not functioning properly. On the two nights when I was out, there were no problems at the James Paget hospital in Gorleston, and I pay tribute to David Hill, its interim chief executive, who will step down shortly. Whenever I am with him at the hospital to discuss the problem, he takes me straight down to A and E to see what the situation is like at that time and to get feedback from staff. His is the hands-on, at-the-coal-face, sleeves-rolled-up management that the trust should replicate.

Although there were not problems at JPH, there were problems at the Norfolk and Norwich hospital, which is a Bermuda triangle that swallows up ambulances. I do not want to place too much blame at the hospital’s door, but the development of a large hospital, albeit one that provides high-quality services and serves a large rural catchment area, means that a possible weak link is inadvertently created in the health system in Norfolk and Suffolk. It is important that the new management of the ambulance trust work with the Norfolk and Norwich hospital to strengthen that weak link.

Is it any wonder that the management have become so out of touch with their staff and the service they run when they set up their headquarters in a stand-alone, business park location in the middle of the fens? In effect, they are working in a vacuum. Surely they should be close to their operational centres where they can be in day-to-day contact with those who are working on the front line. That isolation may have contributed to their pursuit of foundation trust status when the service they ran was so clearly inadequate for the needs of their patients. They were fiddling while Rome burned.

There has been a failure to work properly with voluntary first-responder groups, which play a key role in working with professional paramedics in more isolated rural areas. Rumburgh in my constituency has a dedicated team of responders with the necessary equipment provided by successful fundraising activities, but it has been unable to work properly because it has been provided with no training, no accreditation and no up-to-date maps.

As to the future, I believe that a corner has been turned, but a lot of work is necessary. The trust’s turnaround plan includes 89 recommendations and there is concern that if they are addressed in a random, scattergun way the new board might achieve nothing. It must focus on the most important issues: patients and staff. Staff are the most important asset in any organisation, and that must be remembered as we go forward.

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Peter holds regular surgeries at various locations in the constituency. Please call 01502 586568 to make an appointment.

Next Surgeries - 2018: 
Lowestoft, Wednesday 8th August



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