Ambulance service is under high pressure

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Huge concerns have been raised about ambulance response times after a woman in her 80s was leftwaiting for nearly three hours outside in the cold.

She had fallen on steps into Norham village shop two days after Christmas.

But despite an ambulance from the North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) being called, she waited two-and-three-quarter hours before a member of the public from Scotland called for one from over the border and she was taken to hospital.

Raising the issue at Monday night’s north area committee, Coun Dougie Watkin, representing Norham Parish Council, said: “It is our understanding that this ambulance was standing in Scotland, six miles away, for the entire time while the woman was waiting. She was left in the cold, it was intermittently raining and she was drifting in and out of consciousness.

Huge concerns have been raised about ambulance response times after a woman in her 80s was leftwaiting for nearly three hours outside in the cold.

She had fallen on steps into Norham village shop two days after Christmas.

But despite an ambulance from the North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) being called, she waited two-and-three-quarter hours before a member of the public from Scotland called for one from over the border and she was taken to hospital.

Raising the issue at Monday night’s north area committee, Coun Dougie Watkin, representing Norham Parish Council, said: “It is our understanding that this ambulance was standing in Scotland, six miles away, for the entire time while the woman was waiting. She was left in the cold, it was intermittently raining and she was drifting in and out of consciousness.

Huge concerns have been raised about ambulance response times after a woman in her 80s was leftwaiting for nearly three hours outside in the cold.

She had fallen on steps into Norham village shop two days after Christmas.

But despite an ambulance from the North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) being called, she waited two-and-three-quarter hours before a member of the public from Scotland called for one from over the border and she was taken to hospital.

Raising the issue at Monday night’s north area committee, Coun Dougie Watkin, representing Norham Parish Council, said: “It is our understanding that this ambulance was standing in Scotland, six miles away, for the entire time while the woman was waiting. She was left in the cold, it was intermittently raining and she was drifting in and out of consciousness. “Why was this Scottish ambulance not given the job straight away?

“I think everybody would expect some collaboration between the two ambulance services. Fortunately the lady is recovering, but it could have been a lot worse.”

Coun Watkin asked if the council would invite the ambulance service to the area committee to discuss issues.

But Daljit Lally, executive director of wellbeing and community health services at the county council, said NEAS had already been asked to attend a future scrutiny committee about concerns with the ambulance service.

MP Sir Alan Beith has also raised the issue. Along with Lib Dem candidate Julie Pörksen, he met the chief executive of NEAS, Yvonne Ormston, to discuss serious concerns over response times, patient transport changes and service pressures.

During the meeting, Sir Alan and Ms Pörksen asked for comments on cases where it has taken a significant amount of time for an ambulance to arrive.

Ms Pörksen said: “We challenged NEAS to provide more in-depth details on response times. At present the response time is calculated from the time of the call to the arrival of help on scene and in many cases this is the community first responder, not the paramedic crew. Community first responders do amazing work and they save lives, but they are not trained or equipped to deal with every sort of emergency.”

Sir Alan added: “The difficulties facing the ambulance service in our area are not about money, but about recruitment and retention of staff and there are plans in place to address staff shortages. I remain concerned that it will take time to fill these vacancies and in the meantime patients will be relying on an understaffed service. The paramedics and other ambulance crew do a really good job for our local communities and I hope more staff can be recruited to ease the pressure on the current workforce. I will continue to monitor this situation and help where I can.”

An NEAS spokeswoman said: “We call on our neighbouring services for assistance, as and when required, for ambulance responses to patients whose life is threatened. On this occasion, the initial assessment of the patient was not life-threatening, but was upgraded when their symptoms worsened. As a result, a community paramedic was deployed as well as a Scottish ambulance, as the nearest available resources.

“No doubt people will be aware of the pressures that the NHS is currently facing from the blanket news coverage over the last few weeks. Cases where life could be in immediate danger are always prioritised, particularly at times of high demand such as this. This means that for some patients, with non-emergency injuries and ailments, we may not get to them as quickly as we would like. We will continue to work with our NHS partners to monitor and improve our response times in all parts of our region and thank our staff for their continued commitment to deliver patient care.”

NEAS has this week reduced its escalation level from ‘severe pressure’ to ‘moderate pressure’. In December, the service raised its operational status to level four of six to protect core services for the most vulnerable patients in the region.