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Ambulance service to downgrade some 999 calls as it tries to cut response times

By Christian Barnett

Local Democracy Reporter

SOME of the most serious emergency calls are to be downgraded by the region’s ambulance trust in a bid to cut response times to heart attacks and strokes.

West Midlands Ambulance Service, which has some of the worst handover delays in the country, will be taking part in an NHS trial which will see some of the most serious ‘category 2’ calls – such as strokes, heart attacks, sepsis and burns – re-assessed by clinicians to find out how quickly paramedics need to respond to the emergency and whether an ambulance is required at all.

But while the NHS says the move will be prioritising response times to time-sensitive emergencies such as heart attacks and strokes, which should be responded to within 40 minutes, it will still mean many ‘999’ calls will not be treated as such.

The move, which is also being trialled by London Ambulance Service, is expected to affect around 40 per cent of ‘category 2’ 999 calls, the NHS said.

The results of the trial will then be used to establish whether some of the ‘least’ serious ‘category 2’ emergencies – such as some types of burns – can be indefinitely downgraded into ‘category 3’ – which are ‘urgent’ but not immediately life-threatening.

A spokesperson for the NHS said: “This trial, supported by clinicians, will start in two areas of the country with the aim of speeding up ambulance response times for the sickest patients who need care and treatment most quickly – in a similar way to how category 3 and 4 calls currently work.

“The proposal being tested will see a clinician call and assess those patients who could be treated through other services, such as a community response.”

Earlier this month, the region’s ambulance service admitted that long handover delays had been at “catastrophic” levels for 12 months and showing no signs of improving.

Some of the most ‘serious’ and at-risk patients, including those who have had strokes, are still having to wait almost two hours for an ambulance to arrive with many needing help after falls facing agonising waits of 12 hours or more.

The Herald has reported in the past month about two incidents where elderly patients were left waiting for six and seven hours for an ambulance after suffering falls. On both occasions 999 calls had been made.

Earlier this year, West Midlands Ambulance Service (WMAS) director Mark Docherty warned of lengthy and ever-increasing delays.

He said the service and hospitals were under “severe pressure” and handover delays meant patients were waiting longer than they should.

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