Ambulance trusts call for target changes

Ambulance trusts in England are lobbying the Department of Health for changes to the targets system, the BBC has learned.

A briefing document from the East of England Ambulance Service said the current system introduces "perverse incentives" to meet targets.

The report describes how the dependency on a large number of rapid response vehicles has "seen ambulance trusts experiencing back up delays".

Back up vehicles are the ones used to transport the patient to hospital.

The Department of Health said it was considering changes.

Under the current system, known as Call Connect, ambulance response times are measured from as soon as a call is put through to an ambulance control room.

'Better care'

This is to meet the target for immediately life threatening Category A calls to have a crew on scene within eight minutes at least 75% of the time.

The proposals outlined in the document call for a maximum of one extra minute to be allowed for call handlers to make an assessment of the most appropriate response, such as sending a transport ambulance or a rapid response vehicle.

The clock for the performance target would start ticking once the patient complaint had been recorded or the vehicle dispatched or the initial 60 seconds had been used up.

According to the briefing document, which has been sent to a number of MPs in East Anglia, the Call Connect system, which has been in place since April 2008, "introduced faster care, but not necessarily better care for patients".

It also said the proposed changes would improve staff morale.

'Proposals to department'

Earlier this month a BBC investigation revealed the number of heart and stroke patients in the east of England waiting more than an hour for a back up ambulance to take them to hospital had quadrupled in the past three years.

In an internal email, staff at the East of England Ambulance Service had called on the trust board to investigate "the vast numbers of patients that have deteriorated due to the current operational policies of this trust".

In a statement, the East of England Ambulance Service said: "This is a proposal made to the Department of Health by all ambulance services in England and we cannot discuss details until that process has been completed."

The Department of Health said: "The department is considering changes to strengthen the target for the most serious ambulance calls.

"We are looking at the whole system of dealing with care for the most seriously ill patients.

"We will introduce changes once a safe approach is agreed, but our priority is to maintain the highest quality care."

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