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North West Ambulance Response Times Criticised

New figures obtained by the Manchester Evening News reveal an alarming number of incidents where ambulance crews in the North West took more than two hours to attend emergency calls last year. 

One call in Whitefield last January categorised as “Red 1” and classed as immediately life-threatening, took an ambulance crew a staggering 138 minutes to reach. The call was initially listed under “falls” and given a lower priority before being upgraded to the most urgent classification.

The case was just one of several “Red” calls where ambulance crews took more than an hour to reach patients.

Emergency 999 calls to the ambulance service are prioritised into two categories depending on the information call handlers receive at the time to ensure life-threatening cases receive the quickest response.

2013/14 was the first time “Red 1” and “Red 2” performance standards were introduced. Red 1 cases are the most time critical and cover patients who are not breathing and have no pulse. Red 2 cases are less immediately time critical and cover conditions such as strokes and fits.

The Department of Health requires that all NHS ambulance services must respond to 75% of Red calls within 8 minutes.

Less seriously ill patients are categorised as “green calls”. So-called “Green 1” and “Green 2” calls, have a target response time of 20 minutes and 30 minutes respectively.

Other incidents revealed by the Manchester Evening News involved a case in Stockport when an ambulance took 71 minutes to attend to a cardiac arrest patient, and 78 minutes to attend a Bury patient suffering respiratory problems.

In December last year North West Ambulance Service responded to just 59% of the most life-threatening incidents within 8 minutes - the worst recorded figure among England’s 10 ambulance trusts.

Responding to the figures, management at the North West Ambulance Service claimed 2014 was their busiest ever year as 999 emergency calls increased by 3.4 per cent.

It is unacceptable for ambulance crews with a target time of 8 minutes to take more than two hours to attend emergency calls. That this happened on a number of occasions last year is extremely worrying.

December is traditionally an incredibly busy month for the NHS and particularly ambulance crews but ambulance services need to do more to mitigate the challenges seasonal call increases present and ensure as many ambulances as possible are available to attend the most serious life-threatening emergency cases.

Gill Edwards is a Senior Clinical Negligence Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers UK.

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