Strecthed ambulance service being pulled apart by incorrect 999 calls

10:00 22 March 2013




The ambulance service for the East of England has been under fire for its use of rapid response vehicles instead of ambulances, for pulling resources from rural areas into cities and for focusing on targets rather than patients. Here a ambulance worker from Cambridgeshire, who asked not to be named, responds to the claims and explains that while it is not an ideal situation, the public could play a large role in helping the ambulance service help them.

WE, the East of England Ambulance Service, like our colleagues in the police and fire service are facing large funding cuts, despite the number of 999 calls made each year rising. We are being made to save £50million over five years. We are being asked to do more, with less money. We are running at breaking point. As frontline staff we work exhausting 12 hour shifts that are often extended by one to two hours, with only one 30 minute break, on ambulances that are sometimes clapped out and barely running.

Did you know that more than 40 per cent of patients that call 999 and have an ambulance attendance are not transported because their condition does not warrant emergency treatment at hospital? 999 is an emergency number primarily there to treat those suffering life-threatening medical conditions.

What constitutes a life threatening emergency? Chest pain. Stroke. Choking. Unconsciousness. Major blood loss. Serious road traffic accident.

Every shift, my colleagues and I attend people that have called 999 for a small cut, or a headache, or because they have a stomach bug. As frontline staff serving Huntingdonshire, there is nothing more distressing for us to be dealing with a non-urgent call in Peterborough – yes this does happen – and hearing our control room through our radios asking for help with either an uncovered 999 call or a rapid response vehicle asking for immediate assistance with a time critical patient. And this could be happening just around the corner from our station.

It is a sad fact that there are simply not enough resources covering the larger places such as Peterborough, Cambridge and Bedford. To make up for the shortfall, response cars and ambulance crews are pulled away from Huntingdon, St Neots and St Ives, leaving our local area and the surrounding villages with little 999 response cover.

This is a plea: think before calling 999. Is it really an emergency? Can it be dealt with at home? Can you see your GP or call the out of hours GP service? Can you get yourself to your local A&E department?

There is a common misconception that if you arrive at hospital by ambulance you will be seen quicker. This is not the case. Every person that attends an A&E department will be seen in turn of the seriousness of their medical condition.

As an ambulance service we attend thousands of patients every day across the East of England, and in the vast majority of cases we are able to arrive in a timely fashion, and the patients we treat are very happy with the service they receive.

We are here to help those in need, please do not abuse this service. It may result in a delay in getting to someone that really needs our help.


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