8 Hour Ambulance Waiting Times In Norfolk & Suffolk

13 June 2014, 06:00 | Updated: 13 June 2014, 08:25

Heart's exclusively found out a patient had to wait nearly 8 hours for an ambulance in Norfolk and Suffolk last year.

We put a Freedom of Information Request to the East of England Ambulance Service asking how long a patient had to wait for an ambulance in our region last year, dating from 1st January 2013 to December 31st 2013.

Our findings reveal the longest waiting time in Norfolk was 7 hours 56 minutes, while in Suffolk it was 7 hours 39 minutes.

Amy Carter's 3 month old daughter Bella Hellings died in March last year after having breathing difficulties.

It took two ambulances 26 minutes to reach their home in Thetford - one got lost and the other had to stop for fuel. 

Miss Carter told Heart: "I had to resuscitate my own child. It's bad enough losing your child but having to be the one to try and save your child and not being able to, it's even worse. You blame yourself and it took me months and months to get my head around the fact that it wasn't my fault.

"I feel angry and let down I suppose, really disappointed. They turned our lives upside down."

In response to a wait of nearly 8 hours in Norfolk, the Ambulance Service said: "This was a call for a patient with an eye injury. The patient had been seen at the eye clinic earlier that day but was experiencing pain. The call was coded as a Green 4 call, the lowest acuity call, and when the emergency operations centre telephoned the patient for further details there was no answer. The clinical staff within the EOC continued to try calling the patient, attempting to check on their welfare but to no avail. Upon arrival at the patient’s address the patient decided that there was no need for the ambulance to transfer them to hospital or for the crew to assist with any treatment."

For the wait in Suffolk the ambulance service told Heart: "The patient was in a care home with nursing staff and the EOC continued with regular welfare calls until the ambulance arrived and the patient was conveyed to hospital for wound closure."

In addition to this, we asked for the longest time a patient in an emergency situation had to wait. Our results show the time for this in Norfolk was 2 hours 55 minutes, and in Suffolk 1 hour and 14 minutes.

For the emergency wait of 2 hours 55 minutes in Norfolk, the ambulance service responds: "At the time, the emergency operations centre (EOC) was experiencing high demand, coupled with patient handover delays. The air ambulance was sent but this was then diverted to a critically-ill patient. Although it took the ambulance significant time to reach the patient, a clinical coordinator had been assessing the situation throughout the time and a rapid response vehicle was on scene within 28 minutes of being dispatched". 

While for the emergency wait of 1 hour and 14 minutes in Suffolk, the NHS Trust says: "This call was coded as a Green 2 call; this is a call which is serious but not life-threatening and is classed as an emergency requiring a blue light response within 30 minutes. This call was for a patient who had fallen but had not injured themselves and the request for an ambulance was for assistance only."

The East Of England Ambulance Service released this statement to us:

Anthony Marsh was appointed as Chief Executive of the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust in January and set the immediate priority of reducing long ambulance waits for patients. As a result Dr Marsh set six priorities for the whole organisation to focus on and these are:

  • recruit 400 student paramedics in 2014/15

  • up-skill emergency care assistants to emergency medical technicians (EMT) and EMTs to paramedics

  • maximise clinical staff on frontline vehicles

  • reduce response cars and increase ambulances

  • accelerate fleet and equipment replacement programmes

  • re-invest corporate spend in frontline service delivery

Significant progress has been made in all areas.  The Trust has had a tremendous response to the student paramedic recruitment drive, receiving around 4,000 applications and offering 175 out of the 400 places to people already. The first three cohorts of students have already started their training, with further courses being run throughout the year. Career development opportunities for our Emergency Care Assistants (ECA) and Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT) have been opened up. The first group of ECAs have already completed the training to become EMTs and we will be training 60 ECAs every year until every ECA that wants to progress and is able to do so is complete. The first group of our EMTs have also started their course to become paramedics.

To increase the number clinicians we have on the road right now, the Trust has cancelled all secondment roles which frontline staff were in that did not directly support the six priorities. With ambulance cover, we have been reducing the number of rapid response vehicles used and putting these hours into staffing more ambulances. Since Dr Marsh's arrival we have ordered 147 new ambulances to modernise our fleet.  120 of these are replacements for old ambulances and 27 are additional ambulances to increase the fleet. We have already delivered more than 130 of these onto the frontline and the remaining will be delivered in the next few weeks. We have since placed an additional order for a further 120 emergency ambulances to be delivered by March 2015.  This will mean that we will have no ambulance older than five years. 

As a result of the priorities and actions we have put in place we are starting to see improvements, especially in the time it takes to get an ambulance to a patient. Ambulance delays and waits are reducing and the average time it takes to get an ambulance (excluding a rapid response vehicle) is improving.