HEART ATTACK? WAIT LONGER FOR AMBULANCE
Huge 999 shake-up means slower response times for millions
VICTIMS of suspected heart attacks and strokes will have to wait ten minutes longer for an ambulance.
In a major overhaul of the 999 service, the eight-minute response target is to be scrapped. Sufferers will now typically have to wait 18 minutes for help.
In some cases the delay could be as long as 40 minutes. This is because suspected heart attacks and strokes will no longer be classified as life-threatening.
NHS bosses say the reforms will save lives and ensure patients get the right treatment.
The existing system is also open to abuse, with ambulance trusts using cars and motorcycles to hit response time targets even though the vehicles cannot carry patients to hospital.
The shake-up has alarmed campaigners because swift treatment is critical in both heart attack and stroke cases.
‘None of this seems very reassuring at all for patients,’ said Joyce Robins of Patient Concern. ‘It seems more like they are rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. It is hard to see the benefit for patients, when many are being
told they may have to wait longer if they have had a heart attack or stroke.’
Half of 999 calls are currently classed as life-threatening – requiring a response within eight minutes.
The category ranges from cardiac arrests – where the heart has actually stopped beating – to breathing difficulties, traffic accidents, suspected heart attacks and strokes. However, under the new system, only 8 per cent of calls, including cardiac arrests, will be classed in this top tier. An ambulance should arrive within seven minutes.
Suspected heart attacks and strokes will fall into the next category, with ambulances taking an average of 18 minutes. The way the targets are being measured is also changing – meaning some patients could wait a lot longer.
Ambulance trusts will also have to ensure that 90 per cent of urgent patients are sent a response within 40 minutes. The remaining 10 per cent will be allowed to wait longer.
Emergency operators will be given an extra three minutes – four in total – to assess the severity of the call before sending help.
The new system has been piloted in three of the coun- try’s ten ambulance trusts and will be rolled out nationally in time for winter. Although medical experts and MPs are broadly supportive of the changes, it will do little to solve the huge problems facing the ambulance service.
Trusts took a record ten million calls in 2016/17 and this total is going up by 5 per cent a year. The rise is being driven by the growing and ageing population and the fact that patients are finding it so difficult to get hold of a GP.
There is also a shortage of paramedics, and one in 14 posts is vacant.
Researchers believe the changes will save up to 250 lives a year. Professor Keith Willett, NHS England’s director of acute care, said: ‘You might wait a bit longer, but what you’ll get is the thing you need. We can achieve a faster response to those who are the sickest and those with immediately life-threatening conditions.’
But Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s health spokesman, said: ‘The truth is that the Tories’ underfunding and mis- management of the NHS has pushed ambulance services to the brink and left record numbers of patients suffering and in discomfort. The public will want to know that a new series of standards is truly based on the best clinical evidence.’ Norman Lamb, Lib Dem health spokesman, said: ‘I welcome these new standards, but it is crucial the impact is monitored closely – including what happens in rural areas, which have often lost out under the current target regime.’
In France, current performance on emergency calls is arrival at the scene within ten minutes for 80 per cent of responses.
In New York, there is a compulsory ten-minute response time for all emergency calls. This target rises to up to 15 minutes in California.
In the Netherlands, emergency ambulances must arrive within 15 minutes.
Cardiac arrests are immediately life-threatening. Heart attacks are less serious, although patients may die later without treatment.
THE GREAT AMBULANCE BETRAYAL
From yesterday’s Mail