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Ambulance staff taking strike action at Deptford Ambulance Station were concerned at the way cuts were affecting the service
EAST of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST) management operated a policy of downgrading target response times for 999 emergency calls from December 18th 2013 to Feb 22nd 2014 last year.

This government-supported savage cuts policy has had the most deadly results. Staff in the Emergency Operations Centre raised concerns about these ‘potentially life inappropriate and unsafe responses’ to emergency calls.

It was in June 2013 that a decision was taken in EEAST to change the coding of 999 calls. This followed a massive failure to adhere to four-hour wait targets in the A&E departments in England, in the Spring of 2013 due to massive staff shortages and A&E closures.

At EEAST, 28 national data sets were affected. 21 were downgraded with just seven upgraded. This was supposedly to be able to focus on patients who were terminally ill or where decisions had been made not to resuscitate.

Instead of these patients getting an ambulance response within eight minutes, they had to wait 20 to 50 minutes, or got no paramedic at all, just a phone call.

Over 8,000 patients were affected and 57 patients died in this period. Staff were very concerned that patients having heart attacks were being left to die.

A Serious Incident investigation was decided on in June 2014 but the report was delayed until last week, January 8th.

The report of the SI investigation admitted that the changes meant ‘Lower level of response being afforded to potentially life-threatening situations’, and then went on to say that ‘no harm had been identified’!!!

In fact, there has been a national initiative by ambulance service heads to downgrade response times.

It was proposed that 43% of Category ‘Red 2’ patients did not need an eight minute response and could manage with 19 minutes.

Anthony Marsh, recent Chief Executive of EEAST has been pushing this policy, as has Health Minister Normal Lamb who is on record as being for the ‘reform’ of ambulance response targets.

Most parts of Norfolk are way behind on ambulance response times for category A patients. Denise Burke, of the ‘Act on Ambulances Campaign’, commented that: ‘Staff had concerns that lives were being put at risk a year ago, so why has it taken so long for this report to be published.

‘Did the trust take any advice from the Department of Health or Health Ministers.’

A GMB regional officer, Tony Hughes, said the proposals were ‘ridiculous’ and ‘we will see people die’.

Andy Burnham, shadow health secretary, told parliament yesterday: ‘While the focus has been on A&E it is becoming clear that the knock-on crisis in the ambulance service is more serious that people realised.

‘Evidence is emerging of national standards being unilaterally abondoned putting patients at risk. Withholding ambulances from terminally ill people is the most cruel form of rationing imaginable.’

This scandal emphasises the acute necessity of getting this coalition government out of office and replacing it with a workers government that will concentrate on the full restoration of the NHS.


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