Exclusive An NHS England area team urged GP practices to call vulnerable patients on Friday night and over the weekend because the ambulance trust was unable to cope with unexpected winter demand, Pulse has learned.
In an email sent to practices via CCGs on Friday 12 December, NHS England’s (West Yorkshire) emergency preparedness, resilience and response (EPRR) lead Adam Bland also suggested that CCGs put out information to the public stating that their GP practice ‘might be open longer tonight or on Saturday’ because the Yorkshire Ambulance Service was experiencing ‘unprecedented demand’ and struggling to meet response rate targets for emergency calls.
But local GP leaders were angered by the email, and said the suggestion GPs should phone their patients over the weekend to ensure they wouldn’t bother the ambulance service ‘would be laughable were it not illustrating a total misunderstanding of the role… of general practice’.
It comes after Pulse reported last week that emergency admissions reached record levels last week, with nearly 5,000 more patients admitted than in the same period last December, despite new schemes like the unplanned admissions DES being brought in to tackle this.
The email said that Yorkshire Ambulance Service was ‘experiencing unprecedented demand’, which meant ‘they are struggling to reach all emergency calls in an expected time frame’.
It urged GPs to ‘make every effort: to ensure an ambulance transfer to the ED is the absolute last resort for all patients; to attempt to contact patients who might be at risk of requiring urgent and emergency care tonight and over the weekend to assess their health and help them access alternative services if necessary; to ensure any patient requests for appointments this afternoon and tomorrow are accommodated as much as possible.’
NHS England also said that the ‘public and patient message via twitter, websites etc’ should be: ‘The ambulance service are really busy today, a lot busier than usual. Your GP practice might be open longer tonight or on Saturday. Try them before ringing 111 or going to A&E. In a real emergency always call 999 but keep the ambulances for those who really need it.’
Dr Andrew Green, chair of the GPC prescribing subcommittee and a GP in Hedon, East Yorkshire, said he was ‘staggered’ by the email.
He said: ‘I was staggered that NHS England (West Yorkshire) would send this email to GPs at all, let alone at 4pm on a Friday afternoon, a time when most GPs will be fully booked with patients until the end of their contracted hours.
‘It is surely predictable that there will be times when ambulance services have increased demand, yet the head of emergency preparedness, resilience and response seems to think that the appropriate action for this is to try, with no notice, to ask a different part of the NHS to take on yet more unresourced work.
‘The suggestion that we might personally phone our sickest patients then or over the weekend to check they are alright and won’t bother the ambulance service would be laughable were it not illustrating a total misinderstanding within NHSE of the role, responsibillities, and workload of general practice.’
He added that the public message would give patients the idea that their practice should be open out of hours, ‘stoking patient expectations without there being any realistic possibility of them being met’.
Dr David Macklin, executive director of operations at the Yorkshire Ambulance Trust, said: ‘We are currently receiving hundreds of 999 calls every day to patients with breathing difficulties and other serious conditions. We really need people to use our emergency service wisely so that we keep ambulances available for those patients who need life-saving help.
‘While many people do use our emergency service appropriately, some callers could be helped by other more appropriate healthcare services.
‘Anyone needing advice and treatment for non-emergencies should consider options such as contacting a local pharmacist or GP surgery, a call to NHS 111 or visit an urgent care centre.’
NHS England (West Yorkshire) area team were approached for further comment but had not replied at time of publication.
Email to CCG leads from NHS England
From: Bland Adam (NHS ENGLAND)
Sent: 12 December 2014 15:55
Subject: Message to GPs
CBU leads to cascade the following message to all CCGs to ensure that all GP practices have the following message by email and phone call:
Yorkshire Ambulance Service are experiencing unprecedented demand. This means that they are struggling to reach all emergency calls in an expected time frame.
Please can you make every effort:
· To ensure an ambulance transfer to the ED is the absolute last resort for all patients
· To attempt to contact patients who might be at risk of requiring urgent and emergency care tonight and over the weekend to assess their health and help them access alternative services if necessary
· To ensure any patient requests for appointments this afternoon and tomorrow are accommodated as much as possible
Public and patient message via twitter, websites etc. The ambulance service are really busy today, a lot busier than usual. Your GP practice might be open longer tonight or on Saturday. Try them before ringing 111 or going to A&E. In a real emergency always call 999 but keep the ambulances for those who really need it.
Head of Emergency Preparedness, Resilience and Response (EPRR)
NHS England (West Yorkshire)