Emergency ambulances responding in record time, says health chief

Janet Probert chats to members of the audience at a Learning Curve talk in Askrigg.

By Betsy Everett

Local ambulance response times to life-threatening incidents are faster than in any other rural area in the whole of Yorkshire, with  72 per cent of calls answered within the national eight minute target, according to health chief Janet Probert.

The chief officer of the Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby clinical commissioning group was responding to claims that the service was “not fit for purpose” and to criticisms from County Councillor John Blackie that she and other health officials were not listening to local concerns.

“We used to get an ambulance to a category A case in eight minutes, fifty per cent of the time. In the first five months of this year it’s been over 70 per cent ,” said Ms Probert. “We do best out of all the rural areas. I am not making these figures up. They are published every month and are available on our website for everyone to see,” she added.
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Ms Probert, who was speaking at a Learning Curve meeting in Askrigg, a project to bring issues and education to the community, answered questions from residents for more than 90 minutes.

She said two cases involving the ambulance service had been investigated by the CCG recently and she “absolutely understood” the concerns surrounding them.

“I’m not for one minute saying patients haven’t waited for ambulances for a while – they have. But the evidence is that the service has improved and we [the CCG] will continue to monitor it closely. I understand your concerns and we would love to put more money in the ambulance service but when performance is improving it’s unlikely we will,” she said.

But neither the ambulance service, nor the James Cook and Friarage hospitals could be looked at in isolation.

“We need the whole system to work. I have to work out the best combination of all these services for the good of our population. Unfortunately, every time I decide to spend some money I also have to decide where I’m not going to spend it.  That is the reality and these are all very difficult decisions.”

Amid fears that the 24/7 Darlington Memorial Hospital’s accident and emergency service was under threat, Mr Blackie said the people who would suffer most were those who were furthest from where the services would be provided.

“I want to hear you say that you acknowledge the fears people have,” he said.

“Absolutely I do,” said Ms Probert. “I’m not for one minute ignoring it. We deal day to day with a hugely rural population not just here but in the North Yorkshire Moors  as well.”

However, closeness to a hospital was not the main determinant of a good outcome, but the facilities provided once patients got there were.

Under the Better Health Programme all the CCGs in the area are considering the evidence following a series of “engagement events” with local communities and clinicians, before considering the next steps.

At the Friarage they were looking at new models of emergency care, involving the out of hours service, paramedics and accident and emergency, working more closely as a team.

The Friarage was facing challenges, particularly around staffing in the medical workforce including consultants in emergency medicine, anaesthetists and acute medicine. South Tees Hospital Trust was considering how best to meet the challenges and a series of community meetings was taking place to get the views of the local community.

No decisions were taken without the support of local GPs and there would be a meeting with them in November specifically to talk about the Friarage.

“It’s a really important issue that we need to understand, so none of this is about people sitting in a darkened room saying we can save a bit of money here, or a bit of money there. This is all about getting the best mix of services we can get for our population.”

Problems facing the CCG, which buys services for the 142,000 people in its area, included finance, lack of doctors, specialists and nurses, and Brexit. The annual budget was £184 million and next year there would be an £8.6 million shortfall.

“There is a finite pot of money and my job is to try and spread that as far as I can. Everything is a compromise,” said Ms Probert.

Not enough doctors and nurses were being trained for the increased demands the NHS was facing – at the James Cook Hospital in Middlesbrough 40 per cent of anaesthetists’ posts were vacant – and the loss of qualified European staff because of Brexit was causing “massive instability.” Meanwhile the withdrawal of bursaries two years ago for nurses, paramedics and allied health professionals had caused a huge drop in university uptake for those posts throughout the country.

“Some of these decision are made either by the population in a referendum or government of the day. There is nothing I can do about them. But we certainly need some strategies around how we are going to deal with these things,” said Ms Probert.

Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby CCG: Compared to the other rural CCGs in Yorkshire Airedale/Wharfdale/Craven CCG (64%) and East Riding CCG (64%) HRW’s performance of 72%. In 2012 and 2013 response times within eight minutes across HRW to the most serious life threatening calls stood at circa 50% and had done so for many years previously.

1 Comment

  1. An excellent overview of a complex subject. I found the talk & the Q&A session very illuminating

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