AMBULANCE SERVICES across the region have hit ‘crisis’ level, campaigners have warned after an investigation from The Yorkshire Post reveals increasing numbers of patients with life-threatening emergencies have been forced to wait over an hour for help to reach them.
In the first five months of this year, 34 Yorkshire residents suffering from serious conditions such as suspected strokes, where patients should be reached within eight minutes, had to wait more than 60 minutes for a vehicle to arrive on the scene.
Figures from Yorkshire Ambulance NHS Trust (YAS), obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, suggest response times in the region are getting slower year-on-year. In 2012, there were 47 occasions where YAS took an hour to get to a ‘Red 2’ incident and last year, the figure crept up to 48.
Meanwhile, the trust has been forced to call upon voluntary service St John’s Ambulance for help to free up emergency resources.
The directors of YAS have blamed the slump in standards on a 19 per cent increase in demand in the first few months of the year, but unions argue it is cost-cutting measures which are really putting patients at risk.
Les Muir, regional organiser for union Unite, said: “It’s in crisis. Staff are at breaking point. We’re failing to get to one in three life-threatening calls.
“If you ring an ambulance and your life is in danger there’s a good chance it won’t get there in time.”
“The population is growing and the ambulance service is not growing with it. It becomes harder and harder to meet the calls,” said Ray Gray, regional officer for UNISON.
The Yorkshire Post also found response times for ‘Green 1’ calls, which are classed as serious but not life-threatening and should be reached within 20 minutes, also appear to be growing at a rapid rate.
Throughout the whole of 2013, a total of 325 ‘Green 1’ patients had to wait more than an hour. Between January and May this year, there were 372 such cases.
Further evidence of a deepening crisis came in YAS’ latest executive report, which highlighted a number of areas falling short of the target for reaching 75 per cent of all red emergencies - which include immediate threats to life - within eight minutes.
Last month, only 54 per cent of call-outs in Airedale, Wharfedale and Craven were reached within the target time-frame and in Rotherham emergency crew reached just 60 per cent.
This comes a week after data from the Health and Social Care Information Centre showed Yorkshire ambulances are taking around 1 minute 40 seconds more to get to emergency calls compared with three years ago.
YAS was labelled the third-worst in the country after the revelation response times in May this year were up 100.8 seconds since May 2011.
Measures introduced as part of a performance recovery plan designed to help the struggling service cope include St John’s Ambulance providing urgent transport. The trust said it is currently in the process of recruiting 90 paramedics and emergency care assistants, who are not medically-qualified. Bosses were unable to specify how the posts will be split.
Ian Brandwood, executive director of human resources at YAS, said: “We have had a challenging start to the year compounded by a significant increase in demand. Reaching patients as quickly as possible and providing high quality clinical care remains our priority.
“We are working hard to reduce our response times.”