No new ambulances for Hertfordshire

East of England Ambulance Service

East of England Ambulance Service - Credit: Archant

A WHISTLEBLOWER from Harpenden has forced the ambulance service to backtrack on its announcement that a boost to its vehicle fleet and staff numbers will benefit this district.

The East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust (EEAST) recently boasted that in the wake of complaints from residents across the region, including St Albans, about tardy response times to emergency calls, 15 more ambulances were now being used full time right across the region.

That statement prompted the former member of the ambulance service who maintains close ties with EEAST staff to speak out after he received angry calls from ambulance crews disputing that claim.

The man, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “None of the new ambulances are coming to Herts. They are all going to Essex, Cambs, Suffolk and Norfolk. There are none for Beds and Herts.”

He said that there were three ambulance services attending calls in St Albans district – EEAST and two privately operated companies, Lincolnshire-based Human Touch and Medical Services, which transferred patients and transported those being discharged.

The man said that one of the biggest problems faced by EEAST was that it has been hit by closures of local accident and emergency wards at St Albans and Hemel Hempstead and changes to QEII in Welwyn, which has whittled down its A&E service to treat minor injuries only at night.

He explained that had left a “vacuum” for emergency treatment in and near St Albans, as ambulances were forced instead to take patients further afield to either end of the county, to Watford or Stevenage’s Lister Hospital.

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And often that was where they remained, partly because ambulance crews had to then take breaks at those hospitals.

An additional problem is that although EEAST stipulates that patients should ideally be transferred to a hospital bed 15 minutes after arrival, because of delays at Watford and Lister patients are being kept on ambulance stretchers much longer until a bed becomes available.

The man said that it was not fair that elderly residents, some of whom had contacted the Herts Advertiser about lengthy ambulance response times, had to wait hours for an ambulance. He added: “The elderly hate calling the service in the first place, because they don’t like disturbing people.

“The situation is going to get worse. People are going to die. Ambulance staff are concerned too because they are working 12-hour shifts, when eight-hour ones would be better.

“They are being run ragged and hospitals aren’t coping. Calls are increasing eight per cent on average a year and the service can’t cope with that extra work load without something cracking.”

A spokesman for EEAST admitted that “none of the extra ambulances have been placed at stations in Hertfordshire. The introduction of new ambulances was targeted at those areas in greatest need.

“We are working extensively alongside hospitals and commissioners to tackle the issue of patient handover times at A&E departments to help get ambulances back out on the road as quickly as possible.”

He said staff rotas would become more flexible, with more input from officers.