South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust has responded to more than 30,000 extra calls since the start of the year compared with 2015 across Sussex, Surrey and Kent.
As well as high demand, delays at busy hospitals are a ‘significant issue’ across the whole region, and while the trust is working with hospitals to address the problem, it is ‘severely impacting’ SECAMb crews’ ability to respond to patients as quickly as it would like.
Meanwhile a national shortage of paramedics is also affecting the trust, which is working to fill a number of vacancies, including recruiting to positions in its emergency operations centres.
The trust has this week asked the public for its continued support and reminded residents only to dial 999 in an emergency.
A spokesman for SECAmb said: “The trust is working hard to meet this additional demand but acknowledges that it is failing to reach some patients as quickly as it would like.
“The trust would like to thank its hard working staff and apologise to any patients who may wait longer for an ambulance than they would expect.”
Geraint Davies, SECAmb’s acting chief executive, said: “The demand on the trust continues to be extremely high and, as ever, all our staff are rising to the challenge and I’m extremely proud of their commitment and effort. I’d also like to apologise that it is taking us longer than we would like and expect to respond to patients.
“I want to reassure the public that improving our performance in spite of these challenges and improving the service we provide to all our patients is my top priority.
“We are very aware that there are some significant improvements which we need to address, as was highlighted with our recent CQC inspection.
“We were aware and already taking action to address many of these issues and that work will continue so that we provide our patients with the service they rightly expect and deserve and so that our staff feel valued as they perform such a challenging role.”
This comes a week after it was revealed that following a Care Quality Commission inspection in May, the health regulator had written to SECAmb highlighting areas warranting ‘immediate further investigation and attention from the trust’.
Significant concerns included a computer dispatch system that appeared to be out-of-date, arrangements for safeguarding which were found to be ‘exceptionally weak’, while staff had called the CQC to complain of a ‘culture of bullying and harassment’ within the trust.
SECAmb trust chairman Sir Peter Dixon said the CQC letter gave them some very clear work to do, some of which had already started.
This week the trust explained that anyone faced with a medical emergency should not hesitate to call 999, but it is urging anyone else who needs help to consider all the other options available to them.
This might be dialling NHS 111 for help, where staff can provide support and advice over the phone and refer patients to out-of-hours services where appropriate.
When to call 999:
If you think a patient is suffering from one of the following you must dial 999 for an ambulance:
• Anyone who isn’t breathing or is in cardiac arrest
• Chest pain for more than 15 minutes (which may be indicative of a heart attack heart attack)
• sudden unexplained shortness of breath
• heavy bleeding
• unconsciousness (even if the patient has regained consciousness)
• traumatic back/spinal/neck pain (for example injuries from falls or other accidents, causing severe pain or possible fractures)
You should also call for an ambulance if:
• you think the patient’s illness or injury is life-threatening
• moving the patient/s without skilled people could cause further injury
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