GPs in Kent have been warned to use the local ambulance service only when ‘clinically appropriate’, due to high demand for the service.
NHS Medway CCG chair Dr Peter Green sent a letter to GPs, seen by Pulse, warning of ‘potential delays in the provision of the [ambulance] service’, especially for less urgent cases.
He reminded GPs to only refer patients to the local foundation trust if ‘clinically appropriate’, and to use ‘alternative pathways where possible’.
Local GPs said that the warning was ‘worrying’, as we are in a period of relatively low demand compared with a potential winter flu outbreak.
The letter sent by Dr Green said: ‘I would like to advise you that SECAmb [South East Coast Ambulance Service] are currently experiencing significantly high levels of demand resulting in potential delays in responding to emergency and non-emergency calls.
‘I know that you will only refer patients to MFT via ambulance if it is clinically necessary but I wish to advise you that there may be delays in the provision of this service, especially the less urgent conveyances.’
A spokesperson for NHS Medway CCG said the letter was ‘entirely normal’ during spikes in demand for the service, such as over the late Bank Holiday in August.
But Dr Julian Spinks, chair of Kent LMC, told Pulse that it was the first letter of its kind he has seen.
He said: ‘This is the first time that I have ever seen a letter from the CCG about ambulances.
‘What I find worrying is that it was still officially summer when we received the letter but what happens when we get into winter and it gets busy? It’s a little scary to think what might happen if we have a flu outbreak say. Will everything fall over?
‘I feel that GPs are almost being encouraged to take extreme risks with patients and it is not good.’
He said that if the patient can be transported independently, for example with relatives, than he always suggests this as the fastest option but if a patient really needs an ambulance they should be able to get one.
A spokesperson for the SECAmb said: ‘SECAmb and the NHS as a whole continues to be extremely busy. We are continue to face higher demand than we would usually expect at this time of year meaning it is taking us longer than we would like to attend some calls.
‘This letter is part of regular conversations across our whole region, driven not only by the demand facing our service, but also demand on hospitals. We are working closely with our colleagues across the NHS to manage this demand.’
‘Everything is back to normal now,’ the spokesperson added.