Ambulance chiefs apologise for lack of communication over base closures

Ambulance service bosses have apologised for a lack of communication over the closures of four county ambulance stations earlier this month.

The ambulance service said its communication over the closures could have been better
The ambulance service said its communication over the closures could have been better

The bases in Oswestry, Market Drayton, Bridgnorth and Craven Arms shut on October 4 – along with six others across the region – less than six weeks after West Midlands Ambulance Service (WMAS) announced it was ‘reviewing’ their futures.

The service said the closures would free up crews and improve response times, meaning there was no need for a public consultation.

However, speaking at a meeting of Shropshire and Telford’s joint health overview and scrutiny committee on Thursday, representatives from WMAS said they acknowledged there could have been better public engagement around the plans.

Murray MacGregor, communications director, said: “We would like to hold our hands up and say we haven’t done as well as we could or should have done in regards to consulting about this.

“There is clearly no substantial variation in the service so there was no legal requirement to do it, but I think we accept that we should have talked to the council sooner about it, and the town councils, and for that we apologise.”

Mr MacGregor said the planned closures had to be brought forward in an attempt to improve response times, with mounting pressure on the service caused by increasing delays to patient handover times at Shropshire’s two main hospitals.

In September, ambulances waited for an average of one hour and six minutes outside the Princess Royal Hospital in Telford, and two hours 17 minutes outside the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital. The national target is 15 minutes.

Ambulances queuing at Royal Shrewsbury Hospital

As a result, Mr MacGregor said the current service being provided to Shropshire residents was “simply not good enough”.

He said: “There is a direct correlation between our poor performance and the issues we have had at hospitals.

“One of the things we try to do to make our performance better is to free up as much ambulance time as we can, and that’s led to us taking the difficult decision to close the community ambulance station sites.

“We had to bring that forward because of the level of delays that we are experiencing and the trouble that we are having trying to get to patients.

“Through no fault of the crews that were based at the community ambulance station sites, they were inherently inefficient.”

Mark Docherty, executive director of nursing and clinical commissioning, said about eight years ago each ambulance crew would see an average of eight patients in a 12-hour shift – and that number was now below three.

He said: “Ambulance productivity has completely dropped because of handover delays outside the two hospitals in Shropshire, Telford & Wrekin.

“They disproportionately represent our total delays. So although there are hospitals with greater numbers, for the size of those hospitals they waste a lot of resource.”

Ambulance crews are seeing fewer patients due to time spent queuing at hospitals

Mr Docherty said in a bid to combat this he had begun chairing fortnightly meetings to discuss what could be done to improve the situation – but just one representative from the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust (SaTH) had attended the most recent one.

He added: “We are doing our best to get things right, and we are getting frustrated with the system.”

Steve Trenchard, executive director of transformation at Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin Clinical Commissioning Group said there were plans in place to try to reduce the number of patients requiring hospital treatment.

He said: “I don’t think it’s correct to say the system isn’t working together on this issue, there’s a clear improvement plan around urgent care.”

The committee asked for a timeline to be produced.

Councillor Heather Kidd said: “We and the public need to know what you are putting in place and when.”

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