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Lincolnshire ambulance response times still double national targets despite ‘significant improvements’

The ambulance service covering Lincolnshire has recorded ‘significant improvements’ to its response times - but they are still double national targets.

East Midlands Ambulance Service (EMAS) has been able to bring average waiting times for category two ambulance incidents, which include strokes or chest pains, from almost three hours to less than an hour in the space of a year.

EMAS faced the Lincolnshire Health Scrutiny Committee on Wednesday (January 24) to evaluate the trust’s performance over the past six months.

There have been improvements to ambulance response times, but they remain double national targets
There have been improvements to ambulance response times, but they remain double national targets

For category two incidents, which make up around 70% of all ambulance call-outs, and is considered the ‘best measure of performance’ for ambulance trusts, the mean average time for EMAS arrival has tumbled significantly in the space of a year.

December 2022 saw the ambulance trust record average times of 176 minutes for arrivals on category two incidents, while December 2023’s numbers were 50 minutes and 45 seconds — over two hours less.

Early predictions for January 2024 call-out times look good also, with the average mean time settling at around 41 minutes, according to EMAS.

Response times for category 2 ambulance calls are tumbling, EMAS data shows. Photo: Lincolnshire County Council
Response times for category 2 ambulance calls are tumbling, EMAS data shows. Photo: Lincolnshire County Council

The volume of incidents across the NHS Lincolnshire area was fairly consistent at around 10,500 per month between July and December 2023, with Lincolnshire’s division of EMAS bringing 46% of its cases to A&E in December last year.

This is 5% lower than the national average, and Lincolnshire has never been above the national or regional averages for this figure in the last six months — something EMAS holds particular pride over.

The trust is also ‘leading the way’ regionally in terms of sickness management, reaching percentage rates between 5.81% and 7.8% of staff sickness per month last year.

However, EMAS said this was still too high and were aiming for a blanket 5% rate across the region, which is in line with national expectations.

The trust acknowledged ‘competing delays’ that contributed to dips in performance, whether it be starting the typically busy winter period, or industrial action impacting the wider health system.

EMAS’ Lincolnshire Divisional Director Sue Cousland told the committee that the trust’s report ‘demonstrates an improved position on where we last were.’

“We’re taking less people who don’t need to go to hospital, we have the best sickness record regionally, we’ve reduced our attrition, and we’re adopting a new approach to workforce now and in the future,” she said.

Despite this, the trust accepted that there was ‘still a long way’ to go before the trust could improve further.

“We are saying our category two times have improved and are looking for a 30-36 minute ambulance response, and that is double the national ambulance target, so we are still a long way from where we need to be.”

Neil Scott, head of Lincolnshire operations at EMAS, says a recent CQC report’s findings into the trust ‘is reflected in the community response’ to ambulance performance.

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“People tell us there are delays in response but patient care, once we get there, is fantastic,” he said.

“The vast majority of complaints are focused around delays, and the expectation of when people get a response, as well as what that response looks like. The primary issue is speed of response.”

Coun Robert Kendrick (Conservative), who is on the Health Scrutiny Committee for Lincolnshire County Council, said he was ‘heartened’ and ‘fairly optimistic’ hearing EMAS’ report, expressing delight at the clear improvements made so far by the trust.

“With Lincolnshire being such a rural county, getting around anywhere is tough,” he said.

“But I have to say I was heartened by a lot of what was said.

“I’m fairly optimistic that the issue around delays can be resolved and waiting times can come down if the trust gets more ambulances and recruits its staff better.”

Fellow committee member Coun Tom Smith, also Conservative, took the time to say ‘well done to all concerned’ with improvements at EMAS, but warned that ‘quite serious conversations’ were needed across different sectors of healthcare.

“We’re in a sorry situation of people calling an ambulance because they couldn’t see anybody and left it for weeks and weeks,” he said.

“We need to have quite serious conversations with other sectors of the health service for putting this additional load on the ambulance service as a result of a system failure.

“It is unfair, and this is why we see some of those category one and two times we saw.”

Sue Cousland of EMAS acknowledged that ‘education’ would be the best way to encourage people to seek the correct health service to attend to their needs.

“There’s a role for us all to educate members of the public on appropriate levels of care. The system is working collectively to address that,” she said.

“For us to sustain and improve, changing how we work is the only way we’ll get stability.”

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