Volunteers to take 999 calls in bid to tackle Shropshire's ambulance crisis

The Health Secretary said that using volunteer crews will help alleviate the county's chronic ambulance waiting times crisis.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay
Health Secretary Steve Barclay

Steve Barclay said the Government was committed to dealing with pressures on health services including record waiting times for surgery and GP appointments, and ambulance handover delays.

He said he understood the frustration felt by patients and healthcare workers and insisted a range of "innovative" measures would bring forward improvements.

Mr Barclay, who was appointed Health Secretary after Sajid Javid resigned at last month, was in Staffordshire this week to speak with staff at Royal Stoke University Hospital and Queen's Hospital Burton.

He told the Shropshire Star the Government recognised there were "major challenges" in the NHS and was working "constructively" with clinicians to solve them.

He said GP access was a "key issue", with demand up by almost 10 per cent over the past year.

The Government's solution, he said, was to recruit more primary care staff and to make better use of technology to help guide patients to the right service, which may not always be a GP.

He said the use of crews from St John Ambulance Service – brought in for £30million – would help reduce ambulance handover times, while surgery backlogs could be slashed by incorporating "more innovative" types of care.

Mr Barclay said: "It is not simply about what goes on in the hospital, it is about the integration of the system of health and social care.

"This is about much more than pressure in terms of ambulances and access to GPs, it's about the wider care network and the increased demand.

"It has, however, given us the opportunity to look at how we can use technology in different ways, as well as how we can redesign how we deliver services for everyone's benefit.

"We've got to be more innovative in how we deliver care."

Helen Morgan, Lib Dem MP for North Shropshire, has called on Mr Barclay to visit the region to see first-hand the "calamitous" health crisis.

She accused him of being "strong on words but feeble on action" and drew on a recent warning from West Midlands Ambulance Service predicting the service would "collapse like the Titanic" on August 17.

"That is two weeks away, and yet Steve Barclay and Boris Johnson are still ignoring all the warnings and sailing us straight towards the iceberg," she said.

"The Health Secretary must visit Shropshire as it is patients here who are forced to wait the longest for ambulances when they suffer a heart attack.

"His predecessor was beginning to understand the dire situation we are facing but it is saddening that Mr Barclay does not grasp the nature of the crisis in rural areas.

"Paying volunteer crews will do nothing to relieve the overwhelming pressure on A&Es, hospital wards, GP surgeries and social care which are the underlying causes of the huge handover delays holding up our ambulances."

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