Patients left waiting as Huntingdon ambulances diverted to cities

AMBULANCES that should be for incidents in Huntingdonshire are being diverted elsewhere in the region to meet target response times, an NHS insider claimed this week.

A concerned employee of the East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST) told The Hunts Post that ambulances in Huntingdon, St Ives and St Neots were regularly being allocated to 999 calls from Cambridge, Peterborough and Bedford.

And on Thursday evening, a Huntingdon woman with severe stomach pains was left waiting one hour for an ambulance. Her family said: “It took over an hour for the ambulance to arrive – because it had to come from Peterborough.”

The target time issue has been taken up by the GMB, the union for ambulance staff, which accused the trust of distorting response time figures. The union said the trust was also misleading the public by claiming targets had been met because patients were seen by a paramedic within the eight-minute target. However, the paramedic was often working alone, and patients frequently faced lengthy waits for an ambulance.

EEAST said the claims had “absolutely no basis in truth”.

GMB organiser Mick Vivian told The Hunts Post: “If paramedics are cross-bordering, they can’t deal with the problems in their own area. There are not enough ambulances and not enough staff. People want and expect an ambulance to turn up with trained personnel who can deal with the situation there and then.”

Mr Vivian said the situation was “most definitely” to do with securing Government funding: “If they don’t meet the targets, they don’t get the funding.”

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A trust spokesman said: “This accusation is simply not true. We allocate the nearest appropriate resource to a call, as we always have, to ensure a high-quality service to our patients.”

In response to criticism of Thursday’s incident, the spokesman said: “Based on the information given to our highly-trained call handler that a 69-year-old had stomach pain but was fully alert and breathing normally, the incident was allocated a low priority category for one of our specialist nurses to phone back, in line with national standards.

“The caller was told to dial 999 again if the patient’s condition worsened but it was only during the call back from our nurse that new information was given and, based on this, an emergency response was dispatched.

“On arrival, however, the paramedic referred the patient to the out-of-hours doctor as a more appropriate service for her needs.”

She said the original call was received at 8.34pm. The nurse called at 8.50pm and an ambulance was dispatched at 9.07pm, arriving at 9.36pm.