Struggling ambulance service to take on extra GP duties

The South East Coast Ambulance Service remains in special measures
The South East Coast Ambulance Service remains in special measures

The Sussex ambulance service which is already struggling to cope with 999 calls will now also cover GP call-outs in a UK-first pilot.

South East Coast Ambulance Service (SECAmb) is in special measures following an ‘inadequate’ rating by the Care Quality Commission in October 2017.

And despite consistently failing to hit national 999 response time targets and damning reports over bullying and harassment, paramedics from the trust will now be asked to do a combination of GP visits and emergency care from next month.

SECAmb said extra staff were being taken on meaning its ‘core service will therefore be protected’, adding that it was ‘pleased’ with recent improvements to the most urgent 999 calls.

The 18-month pilot, the first in the UK, will be for the Horsham, Crawley and Mid Sussex area, is set to go live in June.

It comes as SECAmb itself admits a trial in Kent last year where paramedics worked for GPs did not work and affected its core services.

The trust says it will recruit 18 new staff members to cope with the extra demand.

A SECAmb spokesman said: “It differs from the Kent pilot as we are recruiting to this specific role and it will be run on a rotation basis so the paramedic practitioners will continue to support our core service, both out on the road and in our control rooms.

“Our core service will therefore be protected.”

Last year’s pilot, in Sheppey, Kent, was specifically to trial this scheme and ended in March 2017. A trust spokesman admitted that ‘this impacted on our ability to keep our workforce in place to support our core services’.

This latest pilot with NHS Horsham and Mid Sussex CCG and NHS Crawley CCG will see SECAmb paramedic practitioners work on an eight-week rotation basis between primary care, responding to 999 calls and working in its Emergency Operations Centres, SECAmb said.

“We are hopeful that this wider system approach will prove more sustainable,” SECamb added.

It comes as SECAmb failed to hit the national seven-minute target for the most serious 999 calls, like heart attacks, in any month since the Government introduced new four-tier categories for calls in November 2017, in line with most other ambulance trusts.

However, the trust largely responded to call category 1 calls within 15 minutes, and category 2 calls (strokes) within 18 minutes between November and March, above national average and showing improvement in recent months.

Its category 3 and 4 figures however are well off national targets and significantly slower than most other trusts.

The SECAmb spokesman added: “We are pleased that we are performing above the national average for the two most serious categories of call, Category 1 and 2 but we recognise there is more work to be done.

“We also recognise that we need to improve response times to the lower category 3 and 4 calls and we are working hard to address this.”

The ambulance move is part of the CCG’s wider shake-up of health services in Horsham, Crawley and Mid Sussex which will see new GP ‘access hubs’ created, with extended opening hours.

In a statement the NHS Horsham and Mid Sussex CCG and NHS Crawley CCGs said: “It is anticipated that the paramedic practitioners working in the primary care rotation, who will work across a number of practices within CCG localities to provide urgent home visits to patients with frailty, will have a positive impact on patient experience and on clinical outcomes and effectiveness.”

Geraldine Hoban, managing director for the CCGs, said: “We are very excited about the paramedic practitioner rotational pilot as it will offer some of our most frail patients a more rapid home visiting response than general practice currently has the capacity to provide.

“We anticipate that will enable more patients to have their urgent care needs met in or closer to home.

“The pilot also represents the strategic approach we are taking in this area to exploring creative workforce solutions.”

Read about the ambulance trust’s latest CQC report here: https://www.www.wscountytimes.co.uk/news/politics/ambulance-trust-to-remain-in-special-measures-1-8181535