Unions have called on an ambulance trust to change a procedure which sees workers called anywhere across the North West with up to 40 minutes drive time.
Health unions GMB, Unison, Unite and the RCN have accused North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) trust of ‘failing both patients and staff’ after its procedure for dispatching emergency calls has seen ambulance staff sent from up to 40 minutes away to a callout.
The trust says it introduced the system for deploying ambulances, which sees any ambulance within 40 minutes being immediately assigned for category 2 calls, more than a year ago.
The calls are classed as an emergency for a potentially serious condition that may require rapid assessment, urgent on-scene intervention and/or urgent transport.
With the trust covering the whole North West, it can often mean ambulances driving for miles across the region in ‘blue-light conditions’ only to be relieved by a closer more local ambulance team, unions said.
Unions have complained that the introduction has ambulance crews at their wits end and exhausted after being sent to calls up to 30 miles away prepared to respond to an emergency, only to be diverted to another call back from the area they were originally.
Steve Rice, GMB branch secretary, said: “Our members are on edge and at their wits end, it’s an exhausting way to expect us to work. This move has seen each vehicle seeing less patients as running times increase, taken away dispatchers’ autonomy to control and gives very little or no thought to staff safety.
“The issue is this system just doesn’t prioritise getting someone to the incident quickly, it just incentivises assigning the case quickly. It fails both patients and staff.
“This situation can’t hold, and the trust need to end this practice immediately to protect ambulance staff and enable constructive dialogue to take place.”
Jeff Gorman, UNISON branch secretary, said: “UNISON has serious concerns about the introduction of EOC0001.
“Our members are telling us that they are spending most of their shift responding to 999 calls that are on occasions in excess of 40 minute travel time only to be stood down and sent to another 999 call that is back where they started off from, sometimes actually passing addresses that are waiting for an ambulance and they are not actually seeing patients as a result of this.
“We believe that this is putting patients at risk and is detrimental to the Health and Wellbeing of our members”.
Neil Cosgrove, UNITE branch secretary, said: “For quite some time, UNITE has raised serious concerns with the management of NWAS about the way in which changes have been proposed and introduced, which has had a significant impact on service delivery.
“The introduction of procedures which are having a significant impact on our members’ health, safety and welfare, as well as a significant increase to the risk to patient care is no longer acceptable.”
Royal College of Nursing
Estephanie Dunn, regional director for the Royal College of Nursing in the North West, said: “The RCN is deeply concerned about the introduction of these measures and the inevitable impact on the health and wellbeing of staff at NWAS.
“Many of our members are on the end of the phone dealing with the callers and any delay in attending a patient will add pressure to what might be a very distressing situation for the caller.
“We fully expect that staff will face abuse due to stress and frustration. It is imperative staff are protected from this and we call upon management to intervene and support their psychological safety.
“Moreover, patient safety is paramount and we believe this will be put at risk from increased wait times should this proposal be implemented. We urge NWAS to work with all of the Unions representing staff at the Trust to listen and work with us.”
North West Ambulance Service
A North West Ambulance Service spokeswoman said. “This procedure, known as EOC0001, has been in operation for over 12 months and allows ambulance crews to travel up to 40 minutes to attend a category 2 incident – these are serious, but not immediately life-threatening incidents including strokes, seizures and burns.
“Due to the Trust facing a significant increase in 999 demand, and the reporting of longer waits, fully implementing the procedure is realising improvements for patients.
“Because of the large volume of these calls, these patients are frequently waiting longer than they should for a response – this can lead to a rise in the number of serious untoward incidents (SUIs).
“EOC0001, allows us to send resources to which are further away rather than wait for a closer resource to become available, and so far the results are positive with less reported SUIs for this category.
“We do understand the view that some staff will be travelling for longer to reach the patients but those patients need us and in all consciousness, we cannot deny those individuals a faster response during their time of need, when there available resources just that little bit further away or out of the area.”