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Staffing problem blamed for slow ambulance response times and hospital handover delays

PUBLISHED: 17:05 28 February 2019

Dorothy Hosein, interim chief executive of East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST)
. Picture: Sonya Duncan

Dorothy Hosein, interim chief executive of East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST) . Picture: Sonya Duncan

ARCHANT EASTERN DAILY PRESS (01603) 772434

Ambulance response times in Norfolk have steadily climbed since the start of the new year, with health chiefs blaming difficulties in recruiting emergency staff.

The ambulance service has been called to an incident at Mile End Road in Norwich. Picture: Chris BishopThe ambulance service has been called to an incident at Mile End Road in Norwich. Picture: Chris Bishop

The East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST) responded to 54,187 incidents in Norfolk and Waveney between October 2018 and January 2019.

Since the start of the year, the ambulance service responded to calls of life-threatening injuries and illnesses on average between six and nine minutes - within the national response times standards of seven minutes.

For emergency calls, the ambulance response time went from an average of around 14 minutes in January to more than 28 minutes in February - 10 minutes longer than the national standard of 18 minutes.

At Norfolk County Council’s health overview and scrutiny committee meeting on Thursday, EEAST interim chief executive Dorothy Hosein said the past four weeks had been particularly difficult.

Professor Nancy Fontaine, Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) chief nurse. Picture: David TothillProfessor Nancy Fontaine, Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) chief nurse. Picture: David Tothill

Despite comments made by committee member Fabian Eagle that problems would have been a lot worse had it not been for the recent warm weather, Ms Hosein said: “Activity didn’t go away, it didn’t stop our patients needing our care.”

A report to the committee revealed the high level of ambulance hours lost - from delays of more than 15 minutes - during handovers to hospitals.

Figures from January 2019 showed 1,799 hours were lost in handovers to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) - 10 times more than the 174 hours lost at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge and higher than the 961 hours at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn and 191 hours at James Paget Hospital in Gorleston.

NNUH chief nurse Professor Nancy Fontaine said there was an issue with the rapid assessment process at the front door but assured that no patient was harmed.

She added: “Staffing that area was quite a challenge for us, we were not able to assess and move patients through quickly.

“It was a process issue but it’s not just that, the hospital is full - we know for sure the hospital is about 18 beds short and we are looking for capital investment to provide these.”

Terry Hicks, EEAST sector head for Norfolk and Waveney, said the NNUH saw 1,000 patient journeys per week compared to 600 at Addenbrooke’s.

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