999 pilot–lethal consequences

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A TORY pilot trial extending ambulance response time by two minutes has had lethal consequences, with many more patients suffering heart attacks not making it to hospital in time.

GMB, the union which represents ambulance workers, has demanded that the pilot scheme is immediately and permanently ended as it decreases survival rates. GMB said: ‘More than two additional deaths per week for London’s cardiac arrest patients just highlights that time is of the essence when a 999 call is received.

‘We are calling on the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to permanently end the pilot scheme which gives 999 dispatchers an extra two minutes to decide whether to send a frontline crew when a call is received. After the introduction of the trial in London there was a decrease in survival rates for cardiac arrest patients.’

According to press reports, between March and July last year 138 out of 1,739 people survived after being admitted to a London hospital. This equates to a 7.9% survival rate. However, when compared to the same five-month period in 2014 – before the trial was introduced, it was found that 185 out of 1,759 cardiac patients were alive.

This was a 10.5% survival rate.

Nick Day, GMB Lead Regional Organiser for the London Ambulance Service, said: ‘GMB takes no satisfaction from the outcome of the trial, as we warned Trusts not to add the extra two minutes for 999 dispatches. It surely isn’t right for any Ambulance Trust to play roulette with people’s lives and there must not be any more trials.

‘The fact that there was an increase in deaths for London’s cardiac arrest patients just highlights that time is of the essence when a 999 call is received. Given the amount of traffic in London it is no surprise of the increased risk that came from delaying a dispatch of an ambulance.

‘The difference in London from the trial is more than two additional deaths per week.

‘GMB originally highlighted the dangers of increasing the time allowed to dispatch a “Red 2” emergency 12 months ago. It is disappointing that our warnings were ignored and that unnecessary deaths have occurred.

‘It is understood that the trial has now ended in London. GMB is seeking assurances that this is actually the case and no further patients in London will be put at risk. We also want to see pilots in other regions ended too. The Department of Health have stated that NHS England will now commission an evaluation of the trial. The starting point for that evaluation is that additional deaths are simply not acceptable.

‘GMB would like reassurances now the trial has been ended that the London Ambulance Service will work with the GMB to discuss the outcomes of any evaluation and that we will be taken notice of when our frontline staff highlight serious risks to patients’ lives.’