England

South East Coast Ambulance Service 'stretched', says GMB

The emergency response system across the South East is at breaking point, a union representing ambulance drivers claims.

The GMB has said the number of calls has nearly doubled since 2007.

Figures obtained by BBC Radio Kent show hundreds of calls have been made from single properties, including 331 calls from one in Maidstone.

The South East Coast Ambulance Service (Secamb) said a "number of frequent callers... often have complex needs".

Gary Palmer, from the GMB, said: "If GP surgeries cannot pick up... the high percentage of volume of calls for non-emergencies, then the ambulance service are now having to do that.

"The result of that is that meagre services are stretched.

"[Ambulance crews] are now being seen as more a first line responder or transportation service."

'Complex needs'

In 2007, the service received more than 600,000 calls. During the last financial year it reached nearly one million.

Figures show there were 259 calls from one property in Rochester last year and 118 from another property in Hove.

However, Secamb does not regard these as nuisance calls.

A spokesman said: "We are addressing the issues associated with this small number of frequent callers who often have complex needs.

"Often, these callers' conditions can be managed in their own homes, without the need for hospital treatment.

"Our work to address this issue includes making good use of our clinical supervisors, skilled paramedics and nurses in our control centres who are able to manage a range of conditions which may not necessarily need an ambulance response."

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