‘Takeaway pizza delivery quicker than an emergency ambulance’ – 999 chief

‘Takeaway pizza delivery quicker than an emergency ambulance’ – 999 chief

Mark Docherty revealed that some life-threatening emergencies with a seven-minute target take up to 30 minutes to respond to.

Some Staffordshire residents have waited more than 16 hours for an ambulance to take them to hospital, performance figures have shown, missing targets in most areas for even the most urgent cases.

Mr Docherty, Executive Director of Nursing and Clinical Commissioning for the West Midlands Ambulance Service, who is set to step down from his post next year, gave county councils a clear picture of the challenges facing the Staffordshire Moorlands on Wednesday.

He said: “I think honesty is the only way to get us through what I think is the toughest winter we’ve ever faced.

“For a Category 1 reaction, patients would likely be unconscious, likely not breathing, they could be in cardiac arrest, or they could be actively fit or very young babies. They are very time sensitive and there are some really long wait times.

“In ST13 (Lauch and surrounding area) you would wait an average of 14 minutes for a Category 1 ambulance to respond. You should get one in seven minutes; 14 minutes is way, way too long.

“If you go into cardiac arrest and nobody helps you, you will almost certainly die in those 14 minutes. We will not help you reach you in cardiac arrest 14 minutes after the call.

“In 10 per cent of patients some of the numbers approached 30 minutes (in other parts of Staffordshire). So if you’re unconscious, don’t breathe, you have some zip code areas that have patients waiting over 30 minutes. You can get a take-out pizza delivered faster than an ambulance.”

For time-sensitive Category 2 medical emergencies such as a heart attack or stroke, some people waited around 111 minutes – almost two hours – in the ST11 postcode area, which includes Blythe Bridge, Creswell and Caverswall, councilors heard. And for 10 percent of patients, the waiting time can even be more than five hours.

Mr Docherty said: “We should be able to reach you within 18 minutes (for Category 2 calls). They’re the patients who, if we can get to them quickly – and we can get them to the hospital quickly – they can get really good treatment.

“If you’ve had a heart attack or stroke, there are many treatments that can help you return to near-normal function. If we are four hours late, that window will have closed and there is very little the hospital can do to help.

“Category 3 would typically be frail elderly who may have fallen outside. Some of the answers you’re talking about average nearly 400 minutes (six hours and 40 minutes) in some zip code areas and 300 (five hours) in many zip code areas.

“Can you imagine lying in bed for five hours in this weather? Even in an indoor building, most of us would be uncomfortable on a reasonably hard surface just lying on a hard surface.

“If you go to the 10 percent of patients, some will wait up to a thousand minutes (in the ST12 and ST7 zip code areas).

He added: “It is shocking that in this century we are one of the richest nations on earth and people have had to wait so long.

“Every single category of patient that we deal with in this part of the country is waiting way, way too long for emergency treatment. And I’m not going to sit here and pretend the service is anything but unacceptable.

“If it takes us 15 hours to reach people in Category 3, you could argue that the service is already down. I am terribly sorry for the many patients we have let down and patients who are no longer here.”

Staffordshire has also seen the largest drop in ‘ambulance productivity’ – the number of incidents handled per ambulance crew per 12-hour shift – in the last five years, Mr Docherty said. In January 2018, an ambulance crew in Staffordshire had to deal with around seven incidents during a 12-hour shift – the highest number in the region – but by September 2022 that number had dropped to just 3.1, which was the second lowest level.

“In January 2018, so before Covid, we were fine,” Mr Docherty told councillors.

“Either we have to more than double the number of ambulances we have on the road just to handle the same number of people, or we have to do something completely different.

“We were fortunate to have a service in Staffordshire called CRIS – the Community Rapid Intervention Service – so we could let them do some of the work. That partially offsets some of our lost productivity.

“But by and large, response times are the biggest contributor to lost productivity. We’ve lost every backup ambulance we’ve ever had – every single ambulance is on duty all the time.

“Most of our ambulances spend most of their time away from a hospital and that’s where the resource is gone. We’re losing it, we’re losing people who need it, and so response times are suffering and getting worse.”

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