Councillor's deep concern for ambulance service that 'may be getting worse'

East of England Ambulance Service vehicle

Cllr Richard Howitt said he is deeply concerned over the direction of the East of England Ambulance Service after it was put into 'special measures'. - Credit: Charlotte Moore

A county councillor says he is concerned that the East of England Ambulance service is failing to transform itself quickly enough.  

Cllr Richard Howitt was responding to claims by a whistleblower that paramedics can be asked to work 15 hours without a break.  

Cllr Howitt, chair of the adults and health committee of Cambridgeshire County Council, fears efforts to transform the ambulance service “may be getting worse”. 

The whistleblower told BBC Radio Cambridgeshire that she believed the service was unsustainable, describing extreme fatigue and pressure which paramedics are suffering.  

Cllr Howitt said: “The local ambulance service has been in ‘special measures’ for some time.   

“The fact that targets for response times for people suffering chest pain and possible stroke are being missed by more than double, is of real public concern.  

“The paramedics are part of our community and they should be thanked for what they do and we should do everything possible to support them and the service to be able to improve.”  

Cambridgeshire county councillor Richard Howitt

Cllr Richard Howitt has expressed deep concern that the East of England Ambulance Service is failing to transform itself quickly enough. - Credit: Harry Rutter

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Cllr Howitt, who led a scrutiny on the East of England Ambulance Trust (EEAST) on behalf of the county council, said the whistleblower alleged that fatigue “was so bad, she once had to punch her colleague from falling asleep behind the wheel”.  

A county council scrutiny found that medical staff have been put into control rooms to help avoid sending ambulances when emergency treatment is not needed.  

Cllr Howitt is disappointed with the lack of EEAST response to the allegations.  

Cllr Howitt added: “It is regrettable that EEAST has not being prepared to answer questions about the whistleblowing allegations and it does create concern that its efforts towards transformation may be getting worse rather than better.”  

EEAST was put in ‘special measures’ after a Care Quality Commission inspection in October 2020.  

Cllr Howitt said the target for an ambulance arriving in ‘C2’ cases (strokes and chest pain) is 18 minutes, but figures given to Cambridgeshire County Council show this to be over 48 minutes at present. 

In a statement, EEAST said the healthcare system is “under significant pressure.

"We are working with partner organisations to reduce delays and the impact they have on patients.

“Part of this work includes developing cohort areas at acute hospitals where patients can be assessed by going into the emergency department so we can get ambulances back on the road more quickly."

EEAST added: “The public can also help us get to the most urgent cases by using NHS 111 service for healthcare advice in non-urgent cases. 

“Please continue to call 999 if it’s a life-threatening emergency.”