I was very pleased to be able to contribute to the important Ambulance Service debate on Radio Kent this Morning. Adding my voice and Labour’s perspective along with Charlie Elphicke, Conservative MP for Dover.
The Ambulance service is an extremely important part of our NHS. However, like a great of deal of the NHS, it is under enormous stress and strain. That must be acknowledged and dealt with if any sustainable improvements and potentially life saving measures are going to be successfully implemented.
BBC Radio Kent have today raised concerns about the ‘postcode lottery’ that the ambulance service has become. In particular, across Kent the response to an emergency need, a so called ‘category 1’, varies considerably.
In Sevenoaks it takes 11 minutes and 44 seconds for an emergency ambulance to arrive; in Dover 10mins 18 seconds. In Thanet the wait is 5 minutes 41 seconds.
The national average is 7 minutes and 41 seconds. That’s not hitting the National target of 7mins. Seconds count. 8% of all incidents are classed as Cat 1.
I’m sure we are all well aware of the immense stress and worry that requiring an ambulance brings. We know that any delay, even of a few seconds could be fatal.
It is all too easy to blame managers. That simply doesn’t recognise the real budget constraints and workforce issues that they grapple with in order to deliver the service.
There is a shortage of 1000 paramedics
Widespread shortages of paramedics and rising demand forced England’s 10 NHS ambulance trusts to spend around £80m on much more costly and arguably less professional and less well equipped PAS (Private Ambulance Services). Trade Unions have criticised this as privatisation by stealth.
There are ‘handover’ delays when the ambulance and staff arrive at the hospital. Ambulance staff are then tied up at the hospital instead of responding to other emergencies. The target for handover is 30 minutes but this too frequently exceeded.
Staff are often working under extreme stress. Long shifts of 14 and 15 hours are the norm, combined with being diverted to other areas (which means it takes longer to get home), plus the inherent stress of the job means experienced and highly trained employees are leaving because of the strain.
The ambulance service and A&E are under pressure caused by increasing numbers of older people with complex chronic diseases, plus there is an emerging cultural reflex to “call the ambulance” to obtain a rapid medical opinion on a wide range of ailments. This is especially apparent where it’s become difficult to obtain a GP appointment.
So what will a Labour government do?
We will invest in our NHS. Putting more cash in. We will also step in with a long-term workforce plan.
We will add £30 billion in extra funding over the next Parliament through increasing income tax for the highest 5% of earners and by increasing tax on private medical insurance. Additionally we will free up resources by halving the fees paid to management consultants.
Once funding and workforce issues start to be addressed we can then guarantee access to treatment within 18 weeks, take one million people off NHS waiting list and ensure that patients can be seen in A&E within four hours.