Ambulance delays risking lives - MP

The lives of patients in north Norfolk could be being put at risk because ambulances are not getting to them quickly enough - according to the area's MP.

The lives of patients in north Norfolk could be being put at risk because ambulances are not getting to them quickly enough - according to the area's MP.

Figures, obtained by Norman Lamb under the Freedom of Information Act, show response times for the district are the slowest in the county.

The government wants ambulances to respond to emergency calls within eight minutes and expects ambulance trusts to meet that target in 75pc of cases.

But in north Norfolk, only 52pc of the calls received in December were reached within that time and on average between April and December last year the target was only met 57.15pc of the time.

Mr Lamb, who is also Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said he feared that meant the lives of patients in his constituency were being put at risk.

He said: 'The government thinks it's important to get ambulances to people within eight minutes. When you discover that in December only half the calls were meeting that target, that's a real worry.

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'At its extreme we are obviously talking about life and death situations. We are also talking about giving someone the best chance of recovery. With something like a stroke, time is of the essence.'

The figures for Norwich were substantially better than north Norfolk's and all other rural parts of the county. Paramedics met the target for more than 90pc of Norwich's calls in December while in south Norfolk, Broadland and west Norfolk the top figure was 68pc.

In September the board of NHS Norfolk raised concerns that the East of England Ambulance Service was 'investing in built up areas where the targets are more attainable' and Mr Lamb said these statistics supported that.

Penny Bevan Jones, health champion for North Norfolk District Council said she was 'appalled' by the figures. She said: 'I think it is another example of rural areas being discriminated against. In this area we have an above average number of elderly people who are liable to fall, or have strokes. This, frankly, is not good enough.

'There are some fine cases of ambulances getting to people who might be dying in time to save a life, but in some cases they have to go 30 or 40 miles to get to a patient because there are not enough of them.'

She said she would ensure it was discussed by the Norfolk health scrutiny and overview committee, which she is a member of.

The ambulance trust said the introduction of a 'call connect standard' in April 2008 - which means ambulances must reach a patient within eight minutes of the call being connected to the trust - meant meeting the target in rural areas was a challenge.

It said in cases like cardiac arrests, rapid response teams were sent to begin treatment while waiting for an ambulance to arrive and 'considerable progress' was being made across the region.

A spokesman added: 'We want to reassure people in north Norfolk that steps have been taken to reach patients more quickly in this and other rural locations. The trust is committed to serving the whole geographical area it covers equitably.'

Mr Lamb said he would be writing to both the ambulance trust and health secretary Alan Johnson to highlight the problem. He said: 'I am writing to the secretary of state to suggest we need to have some particular protection for rural areas.'