Health: Ambulance trust hoping perceptions will change ahead of winter demand

Steve Hatton, clinical duty manager at Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust, at the trust's 999 call centre in Wakefield. Picture by Tony Johnson.
Steve Hatton, clinical duty manager at Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust, at the trust's 999 call centre in Wakefield. Picture by Tony Johnson.
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Winter is looming and NHS trusts in Yorkshire are buckling up for another rough ride brought on by soaring demand.

But at a time of “radical change” within the health service, bosses at the Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust (YAS) are urging patients to rethink its role as a service now far more diverse than simply transporting patients to A&E.

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Off the back of a winter period that stretched the county’s health service to its limits, YAS is urging people across the region to consider whether they need an ambulance or would be better suited getting GP or NHS 111 non-emergency advice.

The trust deals with 999 and NHS 111 calls at centres in Wakefield and York backed up by mental health clinicians and paramedics to help divide up the most and least serious incidents before a suitable response is dispatched.

Its well-publicised use of volunteer patient transport services, private ambulances and even vetted private hire taxis to help during non-emergencies is aimed at freeing up some of its 2,580 frontline staff for the most urgent calls.

“There’s the perception that ‘I phoned 999 and therefore I need an ambulance’,” Dr David Macklin, director of operations at YAS, said. “But patients should now expect that when they dial 999 they will go through the process of determination of the right response for them.”

Adding that the trust is “not discouraging 999 calls”, he explained that factors such as an aging population and a national shortage of paramedics means giving suitable support for patients is more important than ever.

Despite the national context, it should be noted that the trust has however had a turbulent year. A two-year dispute with union Unite was finally settled in February, health watchdog the Care Quality Commission (CQC) rated YAS as ‘requires improvement’ and increased demand led response times to the most serious ‘Red 1’ 999 calls to dip well below the national target of reaching 75 per cent within eight minutes.

Nine months on in September YAS was reaching three quarters of Red 1 calls within eight minutes and 29 seconds – still missing the national target.

Nevertheless YAS chief executive Rod Barnes claims planned CQC improvements are “progressing well”, trust finances continue to buck the NHS deficit trend while plans are afoot to recruit more paramedics and boost the fleet of patient transport vehicles and A&E ambulances by March 2016.

He also explained that a “robust” winter plan is hoped to avoid the health care challenges that marred the festive period in 2014. Mr Barnes added: “The important thing is patients are managed safely in those peak times and ambulance turnaround times are monitored.”

FACTFILE

Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust (YAS) received 844,554 emergency and routine calls – an average of 2,310 every day – in 2014-15.

Of all the calls it received last year, 297,414 were categorised as immediately life threatening.

The number of calls deemed the most serious, Red 1 and Red 2 calls, went up by 11.1 per cent last year compared to 2013-14.

The trust employs around 4,800 people, with more than 80 per cent of those working in operational areas and 2,580 in accident and emergency.

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