Exclusive: Control Room Worker On Ambulance Delays

15 January 2018, 06:00

East of England Ambulance

A worker inside an East of England Ambulance control room has exclusively told Heart how even some of the most serious calls were being advised of hour-long delays at the service's busiest.

They have spoken out about the winter pressures EEAS is under and the effect it is having on waiting times for people needing a paramedic.

"With the challenging conditions that we've had generally this winter, the sheer high volume of calls, there were some very long delays," said the worker, who wishes to remain anonymous.

East of England Ambulance Call Handlers

"We were advising at times as a service to calls of delays of potentially over an hour on some of the higher category {C2} calls - including things like heart attacks and strokes - that would fall into that category.

"Now that's not to say all calls were experiencing delays of that level - far from it, but in some areas with the highest levels of demand then that could well be the case for some people unfortunately.

"And that's just down to the sheer number of calls coming in and the fact that ambulances are a finite resource."

The East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust received more than 4100 calls on New Year’s Eve and 4800 on New Year’s Day - a 12 per cent increase in demand.


"Unfortunately it is getting worse all the time - increasing number of calls being the primary factor," the anonymous member of staff told Heart.

They say that is despite changes to the way calls are responded to in England, which have seen things like the 8-minute targets dropped, meaning services are better able to get the right resource the first time to patients rather than trying to 'stop the clock'.

"{But} at the same time it is getting worse.

"About six months ago if we were to go over 3000 calls in a day that would have been considered a busy day, now during the winter if we're looking at 3400 calls that feels like a quiet day."


They feel that an increasing population, and more people getting ill - particularly seriously - in the colder winter weather is to blame for the increase in calls.

But also that the pressure would be eased if people better knew when to use services like 111 instead of 999.

East of England Ambulance badge

"I think partly there's an education gap generally speaking across the country where people don't really understand what an ambulance is supposed to be there for.

"That aside, there is the fact that an ambulance is there - if you do need the ambulance service it is important to call. Never ever feel that you can't call an ambulance if you need one."


A spokesperson for the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust, said:

"EEAST has been clear on how the pressures being experienced by the health system have impacted on the service and our staff, and the Trust has now reduced to REAP level 3 - severe pressure - following 10 days of escalation to REAP level 4 extreme pressure.

"The demands however remain high, and the volume of calls being received into the Emergency Operation Centres through 999 and from health care professionals has risen significantly. The demand is constantly monitored to ensure we meet the needs of our patients and the reduction in REAP allows local management teams to review recent actions to ensure they are effective. This is also vital in ensuring staff are well supported at these demanding times and all staff across the Trust have access to wellbeing support during these challenging times.

"In light of the significant pressures on the ambulance service, our call handlers make every effort to provide an indication to people calling 999, where there may be delays in responses to Category 4 (least urgent) to Category 2 (emergency) calls. This enables the Trust to focus resources on the sickest patients and those with life threatening conditions.

"A number of calls received into our EOC's are asking for updates on the location of an ambulance. By informing people about potential delays, we hope this will help to reduce repeat calls just for an estimated time of arrival. This will allow our call handlers to focus on new 999 calls, or 999 calls where a patient's condition may have changed."