North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) NHS Foundation Trust has raised its operational status to 'Severe Pressure', as its response standard to potentially life-threatening calls has deteriorated.
All ambulance services across the UK work to a national framework, called the Resource Escalation Action Plan (REAP), which has four levels designed to maintain an effective and safe operational and clinical response for patients.
Today, NEAS declared its status at REAP level 3, ‘Severe Pressure’. This means that while it attempts to operate a normal service, the Trust’s response standard to potentially life-threatening calls has deteriorated.
NEAS is the second-to-last ambulance service in England to raise its REAP level as a consequence of its response time standards to potentially life-threatening calls being at 61 per cent within eight minutes over the last seven days. The national standard is to respond to 75 per cent of life-threatening incidents in eight minutes.
On December 7 alone, the trust’s control-room staff took an unprecedented 1,837 emergency 999 and urgent calls, comparable with the demand usually seen on New Year’s Eve and 46 per cent higher than the number of calls received at the same time last year. A further 1,664 calls were taken by the trust’s NHS 111 service.
As a result of raising the REAP level, clinically-qualified managers will be made available for front-line duties and will be deployed to A&E departments to manage turnaround. Winter resilience funds are being used to increase the operational resources available with additional overtime and the use of third party resources. Non-essential meetings and training has also been cancelled.
Paul Liversidge, chief operating officer, said: "We are experiencing severe pressures in responding to emergency calls. With the shortage of paramedics and the additional pressures across the wider NHS network causing delays in ambulance turnaround times at hospitals, we have taken the decision to move the service to level 3 to protect our most vulnerable patients.
"Please help us reach those patients who need us most by using 999 wisely. Your call could potentially delay our response to someone else who might need us more.
"Please think before you pick up the phone; do you really need to go to hospital and if you do, is there anyone else who can take you? Turning up to hospital in an ambulance does not mean you will be seen any quicker."
NEAS has already implemented a number of other schemes to help ease pressure over winter, including increasing the number of clinicians in the control room to support 999 call-takers and offer advice for those patients who could be treated without the need to send an ambulance. Other initiatives are seeing Hospital Ambulance Liaison Officers support paramedic crews and emergency departments to minimise the delays in patient handover; and free paramedic time at hospital by using assistants to clean and re-stock an ambulance during patient handover.
Members of the public should only dial 999 for medical emergencies. Examples of medical emergencies include:
Chest pain; Breathing difficulties; Unconsciousness; Severe loss of blood; Severe burns; Choking; Fitting; Drowning; Severe allergic reactions.
If it is not an emergency, members of the public are asked to seek help from their GP, pharmacist or local walk-in centre. Anyone unsure of where to go can call NHS 111.