For most of the time I have been Ashford’s MP the Ambulance Service has been the part of the NHS about which there has been the fewest complaints. As far back as 2006 three county ambulance services were merged to the South East Coast Ambulance Service, which covers a population of five million, and it is fair to say that the last couple of years have seen a less good level of performance.
The senior management came to Parliament to explain to MPs what they are doing about this, and we questioned them very hard about their plans. The short version of what they told us is that they are now doing better on the most serious calls, but that there is still much improvement needed in the less urgent calls.
The slightly longer version is that for the two most serious categories, covering life-threatening and time critical injuries, or emergency calls including stroke patients, South East Coast is now in the top half performers in the country. For the less serious categories, which cover about 40% of all calls, they are in the bottom two of the ten ambulance trusts in England and Wales.
One of the reasons for the problems has of course been the increase in turnaround times at Accident and Emergency Departments, so the Trust has set up a plan with the various Hospital Trusts to reduce this. The Ambulance Trust now has a target that 85% of its crews are clear to move on within 15 minutes.
There is also a review of the use of non-ambulance transport for less urgent patients, as problems with this has been another contributing factor to ambulance delays. There also needs to be better communication with other parts of the health service, especially GPs.
It is only fair to point out some of the better statistics as well. In the end the purpose of a high-speed ambulance service is to save lives, and in terms of surviving a heart attack the South East Coast is the third best-performing ambulance service in the country.
Nevertheless the 2017 inspection of the service rated it inadequate. There will be another inspection in the summer of this year, and while there is clearly a more confident management team now in place, it will be interesting to see if the CQC gives the Trust a better rating. This is an important area of the health service which I will continue to watch carefully.