Michael Pickard reports in the Daily Express plans to extend ambulance response times to up to 19 minutes for some emergency calls were on hold last night.
The move, disclosed in a leaked document, suggests response times for some “Red 2” patients may be changed from the current eight minutes in England.
This category refers to patients who have “serious but not the most life-threatening” conditions, such as some seizures or strokes.
The document said thee proposals had been approved by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt subject to confirmation from the medical directors of 10 ambulance trusts.
But the Department of Health said “no decisions have been made”, while Mr Hunt also refuted the claims. However, the memo claims that NHS England has “agreed in principle”.
The only higher category Red 1, refers to “immediately life threatening” incidents. The changes would lead to about 40 per cent of Red 2 incidents moving to a 19-minute response time.
Andy Burnham, The shadow health secretary, wrote to Mr Hunt yesterday. He said the minister had been in Parliament on Thursday to answer questions on NHS winter planning.
“It is outrageous that he decided to keep MPs and the public in the dark about a decision he had already taken and one which will have far-reaching implications. Patients are already waiting hours on end for ambulances.” Tony Hughes, GMB regional officer for the ambulance service in London and East of England, said: “If these plans go ahead we will see more people die from conditions that can be treated, if given the right resource in good time. The whole of the A&E structure is at breaking point.”
The Association of Ambulance Chief Executives, which drew up the plans, said it would ensure that “only patients who truly need a response in eight minutes receive one”.
It added: “We firmly believe that our proposals are safe and deliver benefits both for patients and for staff who have been concerned for some time that we continue to try and reach many patients in eight minutes when it is not clinically required.
The proposals would not be formally approved until NHS England and the Secretary of State “are convinced, as we are, that they are clinically safe and that they offer better care for our patients”.
The Department of Health said it would only agree to proposed changes that improve response times for urgent cases. Mr Hunt said there were no plans to double waiting times “and there never have been”.
THE strain on the ambulance service is fast becoming intolerable.
Leo McKinstry follows this up with an article on the Daily Express website that suggests an ambulance and fire merger could be the solution.