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Ambulance Watch: Under-performing 999 trust set for almost £15m extra funding

PUBLISHED: 15:24 19 May 2014 | UPDATED: 15:34 19 May 2014

Ambulances parked up outside A&E at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. Picture: Denise Bradley

Ambulances parked up outside A&E at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. Picture: Denise Bradley

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The GP-led groups in charge of NHS purse strings are set to approve an almost £15m injection of funds to the region’s ambulance service to help turnaround its performance.

Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG) have warned that the East of England Ambulance Service is still a long way from being fit for purpose.

However, officials from the 19 CCGs across six counties hope that the extra funding will provide a key factor in improving the fortunes of the NHS trust, which has been criticised over the last two years for slow response times.

North Norfolk CCG, which has the worst response times in the East, is set to pledge an extra £400,000 to the ambulance service at a meeting tomorrow.

The groups attended a summit last month where a total of £14.9m was requested, which includes £8.8m for the recruitment and training of 420 student paramedics, £3.1m for replacement of vehicles and equipment, and £3m for a voluntary redundancy programme.

A business case put together by the ambulance trust recommends HealthEast, the CCG for Great Yarmouth and Waveney, pays an additional £677,000, Norwich CCG pays £471,000, South Norfolk CCG pays £519,000 and West Norfolk CCG contributes £452,000.

Mark Taylor, chief officer for North Norfolk CCG, said the groups expected an improvement in responses as a result of the extra investment.

“Unless prompt action is taken by EEAST, supported by commensurate and targeted funding by commissioners, it is unlikely that EEAST will deliver the improvements required in local ambulance services.”

“EEAST still has a considerable way to go in order to deliver an ambulance service fit for purpose. This business case is a key step in this improvement. Focus on improving the management capability of the organisation and delivering an efficient service will also be vital to on-going sustainability going forward,” he said.

Anthony Marsh, the ambulance service’s new chief executive, set out plans earlier this year to recruit 400 student paramedics in 2014/15, reduce the reliance on response cars, improve the fleet and equipment replacement programme and reinvest back-office funding in to frontline delivery.

The latest Care Quality Commission report found the trust failed to attend at least 75pc of the most urgent 999 calls within eight minutes in 2012/2013 despite “significant improvements”. However, the latest figures from the trust show that the average response time for life-threatening calls were 19 minutes in March, compared to 28 minutes in January.

Dr Marsh admitted it will “take time to turn the service around” but insisted “good progress” is being made.

“While most get a good service and a quick response, some patients have had to wait far too long for an ambulance.”

“There are not enough paramedics and ambulances, which is why we are increasing ambulance cover and recruiting hundreds of student paramedics.

“Our staff do a fantastic job, despite challenging and difficult situations. We have listened to what our staff and the public have told us and the changes we are making will better support our staff to deliver a better service to patients,” he said.

Dan Poulter, health minister and MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, said the “long-overdue” report was “very encouraging”.

“I have been campaigning for years for improvements in the ambulance service to help rural communities in Suffolk and I am very pleased that the trust’s new leadership under Anthony Marsh has produced a credible action plan,” he said.

He said he understood CCGs were “very supportive” of the proposals and added he was “confident” they will be approved.

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