Increase in ambulances and paramedics in North East in bid to meet standards

There will be ‘more paramedics and more ambulances right the way across the region’ in a bid to meet stringent new response times in the North East.

By Ben O'Connell
Friday, 7th June 2019, 9:45 am
The North East Ambulance Service at work in adverse weather.
The North East Ambulance Service at work in adverse weather.

In Northumberland, this means that the North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) will have six additional double-crew ambulances operating, although there will be a reduction in smaller vehicles, such as rapid response cars, available on a 24-hour basis.

This reflects the proposals for the entire area covered by the service, with 38 extra ambulances, but 20 fewer rapid response cars and nine fewer intermediate-tier vehicles.

These changes will result in a significant increase in staff numbers – with 107 new paramedics, 94 extra clinical care assistants, but 23 fewer emergency medical technicians.

Providing an update at Tuesday’s (June 4) meeting of Northumberland County Council’s health and wellbeing committee, the trust’s assistant director of communications, Mark Cotton, reported that NEAS is ‘very proud’ to be the fastest ambulance service in the country for its response to category 1 cases – time-critical, life-threatening events.

Its 2018-19 average response time (for all cases) is six minutes 10 seconds, against the target of seven minutes, and its response time for 90% of cases is 10:36, with the target being 15 minutes.

NEAS also met the three-hour target for responding to 90% of non-urgent cases, with a figure of 2.54:23 last year.

However, it missed the targets for category two (potentially serious problems) and category three (urgent problems, not immediately life-threatening) cases, quite significantly in relation to the latter.

The category two targets for average response and 90% response are 18 and 40 minutes; NEAS managed 21:33 and 45:18. For category three, there is only a 90% figure of two hours and the NEAS result was 2.55:50 – above its time for non-urgent category four cases.

This pattern was reflected in Northumberland in the past year, with category one and four targets being met in most months, but category two and three standards being missed for the majority of 2018-19.

Mr Cotton told councillors that a review took place to establish what capacity was needed across the North East to enable the service to meet the new national targets, which were announced in July 2017 and introduced a few months later.

This review suggested that, based on 2017-18 resources, 272 additional paramedics were needed to meet the standards, which would represent a 50% increase.

However, 42 were funded through additional investment in 2017-18, another 22 are to be delivered through reducing the average turnaround for ambulances at hospital to 30 minutes and a further 95 through reducing NEAS’ high rates of ‘abstractions’ – absences through holidays and illnesses.

Finally, 13 are to be delivered through a switch from a 12-hour to an eight-hour shift pattern, which has additional benefits in helping the service to better meet the peaks and troughs in demand.

This leaves a shortfall of 100 paramedics, and corresponding support staff, which is now being addressed and to be funded by £9.4million of improved efficiencies at NEAS plus £10.4million of additional investment from the relevant CCGs (clinical commissioning groups).

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service