An ambulance service is piloting longer response times of up to 40 minutes for certain serious health conditions when the patient is already with a GP or other healthcare professional.
The trial, which covers around five million patients covered by the Yorkshire Ambulance Service, downgrades a wide range of serious conditions, including heart attacks, strokes, sepsis, meningitis, an acute exacerbation of COPD/asthma or a blocked catheter where the patient is in severe pain.
The Yorkshire Ambulance Service suggests that an ambulance will only be called ‘immediately’ for somebody who is ‘unconscious’ or who has had a cardio-respiratory arrest, compromised airway, anaphylaxis, suspected leaking/ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) or an obstetric emergency.
The scheme also instructs GPs to fill out a form before dialling 999 – to ensure they have all the ‘relevant information’, such as patient’s name, age, why they need an ambulance and whether there is a defibrillator nearby. This could potentially delay getting hold of an ambulance even further.
Dr Dean Eggitt, a GP from near Doncaster, told Pulse: ‘Whoever has drawn this (pilot) up is either somebody who doesn’t understand medicine or who has no regard for human life. We know now that lives don’t matter.’
He added: ‘This is really, really serious stuff. The only way now to get an ambulance in eight minutes is when your heart has stopped or is about to stop.’
Dr Eggitt points out that while every minute counts with heart attacks or strokes, patients with these conditions could potentially wait up to 40 minutes for an ambulance.
‘This seems to be a move away from patients queuing and dying at hospital A&Es to GP practices where we don’t count the numbers dying. Perhaps we should.’
Dr Eggitt fears that the situation could get worse as the Yorkshire pilot could potentially be the first of a ‘roll-out’ of the initiative to other parts of the UK.
A spokesperson for the Yorkshire Ambulance Service said: ‘We confirm that updated guidance has been issued to GPs and healthcare professionals in the Yorkshire and Humber region which is specific to them making a request for an ambulance when a patient is in their care.
‘GPs and healthcare professionals should be with the patient and have direct knowledge of their condition so they can request an ambulance response for a conveying vehicle to arrive within an appropriate timeframe for their clinical needs. This can be escalated at any time should a patient’s condition deteriorate.’
‘The timeframe for the arrival of an emergency ambulance to convey the patient to hospital has not changed and remains within 19 minutes,’ added the spokesperson. ‘When life-saving assistance is required, the nearest available resource is always sent immediately.
A spokesperson for NHS England said that the Ambulance Response Programme is national, while the work ‘Yorkshire Ambulance Service is doing is separate and part of local arrangements’.
‘The Ambulance service is currently piloting an Ambulance Response Programme, which aims to ensure the fastest and most appropriate response for seriously ill patients, including those suffering suspected strokes, meningitis and sepsis,’ said the spokesperson. ‘
‘The letter from Yorkshire Ambulance Service does not relate to 999 calls made by the public, but is part of locally determined arrangements to transport patients to hospital who have already been assessed by a GP or other health care professional. These local transport arrangements are not part of the Ambulance Response Programme.”
The news comes as Pulse has revealed that very young and elderly patients are dying because of worsening delays to 999 calls. GPs have even been forced to drive patients to the hospital themselves after an ambulance failed to turn up.
Campaign group GP Survival compiled scores of incidents, arguing that patients were increasingly being put at risk due to underfunding of ambulance services.