GOVERNMENT ministers have called for an urgent review into East Midlands Ambulance Service (EMAS) amid concerns of poor response times.
And the comments will create further concern for High Peak residents, who have already expressed fears that the borough could be left without cover for long periods of time should plans to close the area’s ambulance stations go ahead.
Speaking in the House of Commons on Monday, health minister Anna Soubry, whose constituency in Nottinghamshire will be affected by EMAS’ Being the Best review, said Government targets on response times were “not particularly improving services.”
She added: “I think there is a case for re-examining targets and saying to the ambulance service ‘let’s look again at these targets in the NHS to see whether they’re doing the job we want them to do’ because it is precisely because of these targets that elderly people in my constituency have been lying on floors for up to four hours while ambulances have to go to meet a target.
“This debate is a good example of where top-down, Government-led targets have blighted an ambulance service.
“I take the view that the situation needs urgent review, and I will certainly be making that recommendation in the Department (of health) that we need to look again at the ambulance service.”
Ms Soubry was responding to a discussion initiated by Bassetlaw MP John Mann, who raised concerns over both the funding and the reorganisation of the service.
EMAS have recently undertaken a three-month consultation over their controversial Being the Best plans to replace ambulance stations with community ambulance posts and hubs - the nearest of which for the High Peak would be at junction 29 of the M1, the other side of Chesterfield.
Mr Mann said losing the contract for the non-emergency transfer of patients had cost the service £5 million a year. “That £5 million a year has not been put back in additionally by the government. Therefore, £5 million of cuts are required in the service.
“To make those cuts, the service is attempting to reconfigure, which has a detrimental impact on my constituency and elsewhere.
“There is currently an in-built pressure for ambulance services to meet specific targets.
“The reconfiguration is happening in the context of meeting those targets, but there are perverse incentives within many of them.
“What is unacceptable to all of my constituents and to me is that former mining areas and rural areas have a worse ambulance provision than the rest of the country. We are not prepared to accept that. EMAS must come back with a proper proposal.”
Ms Soubry added: “I do not believe that this is simply a matter of finance - that is certainly not where my concern lies - or about the Being the Best scheme.
“Many people are of the view that unfortunately it is the way that EMAS is being run that is at the heart of the problem.
“My concern is not so much about the money, but about the way the service is being operated.”
Members of the EMAS trust board were due to make a decision on the proposals later this month, but have now agreed to delay any decision until March so that alternative options, including the possibility of having 27 hubs - with one in Dove Holes - could be looked at.
High Peak MP Andrew Bingham, who has repeatedly condemned EMAS’ proposals to close the area’s ambulance stations, was also involved in the debate.
He said: “High Peak is very rural; we need a hub.”
Ms Soubry responded: “The key point is the positioning of the hub. One of the attractions of the hub approach is that the mechanics would be in place to ensure that the vehicles were ready at the beginning of a shift.
“At the moment, paramedics are responsible for that, which does not seem to be a very good use of their time. There is therefore much merit in establishing 27 hubs in the right areas to ensure that we have a service that is fit for purpose.”
A final decision will be made at a meeting of the trust board on March 25.
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