Ambulances which are already carrying patients could be sent to new emergencies in a bid to drive down response times.
The Guardian reported last week that the East of England Ambulance Trust (EEAST) adopted a policy last month which included sending patient transport service vehicles to life-threatening incidents and asking the RNLI to respond to emergency calls.
The 18-point plan also included plans to divert ambulances which had a stable patient on board to life-threatening calls, in a bid to drive down response times for the most serious calls, known as category one calls.
Last month EEAST was ranked as the worst of England 10 ambulance trust for category one response times.
A senior paramedic, who asked not to be named, told the Guardian: “It’s not safe for patients and it’s not safe for staff – there should be enough vehicles and enough staff for each patient.”
They added: “I’ve never heard anything like this. A paramedic might have a clinically stable patient on board but if that patient then becomes unstable and you’re sitting on scene with perhaps two unstable patients, what do you do? Do you separate one of them from the equipment? Who do you pick?”
Speaking to this newspaper another member of frontline staff said: “This procedure raises a number of very serious questions about safety for our patients and our staff, particularly with the long backup delays. For this procedure to have been implemented by the trust a month ago, without any communication with staff, speaks volumes about the lack of engagement and lack of genuine partnership working we are experiencing.
“For crews to be tasked to category one calls while they already have a patient in their ambulance en-route to a hospital puts staff into an impossible position. Crews only carry one set of monitoring [equipment] and often are skills-mixed challenged, so it potentially places both a registered paramedic and a new member of staff into the situation where they have to choose which patient to monitor and are stuck on scene with both patients, while our back up delays are already very worrying.”
Norman Lamb, MP for North Norfolk and former health minister who has been critical of the trust, said: “It feels to me like crisis management rather than a properly worked-out plan to improve performance.”
A statement issued by EEAST chief executive Robert Morton and medical director Tom Davis said there were “rare situations where a crew who are transporting a clinically stable patient may be passing close by to a life threatening category one incident”.
The statement added: “In such rare circumstances, it is absolutely right that the crew are contacted to assess if it is clinically safe for the patient on board, if the crew were to stop at the incident and give immediate lifesaving care before the arrival of the next closest ambulance or car.”