North East MPs joined forces to raise concerns in the House of Commons about ambulance waiting times in the region.
In a Westminster Hall debate, a number of MPs spoke of examples where those making emergency calls had been left waiting up to eight hours.
The debate on the performance of the North East Ambulance Service was brought by Washington and Sunderland West MP Sharon Hodgson.
She said: “This debate was secured on behalf of the Northern Group of MPs, who after dealing with many constituent cases and reading even more reports in local press over the last few years, decided to raise concerns with the service provided by North East Ambulance Service.
“Our paramedics do an amazing job, day in, day out, yet these continuous failures over the last few years, have meant that local Members of Parliament feel we need to be having a debate that holds the Government to account, on waiting times, workforce retention and recruitment and the pressures put on the NHS, both circumstantial and those following the top-down reorganisation of the NHS.
“Health ministers are ultimately responsible for the services patients access from the NHS, and therefore, it is only right that these concerns are raised directly with them to ensure action is taken to help North East Ambulance Service address these short-comings seen within our region.
We respond to around 1,100 incidents every day and we are truly sorry for those cases where patients have a long waitNEAS spokesman
“We all rely upon the NHS and it is important that any concerns are raised directly with the Government on any aspect of the services provided. That’s why I hope that following this debate, the minister will be able to go away and work collaboratively with the North East Ambulance Service Trust, and local Members of Parliament so that our constituents receive the best possible service.”
Parliamentary undersecretary for public health, Jane Ellison MP, said she agreed there were some serious issues.
“Ambulance services are obviously vital to the health care system,” she said. “They are there to provide rapid assistance to people in that urgent need of help.
“All members had been careful to prise the hardworking staff, working under considerate pressure.”
She said the NHS was under more pressure than ever, but would see a cash injection of £10billion by 2021.
A spokesman for the North East Ambulance Service said: “We welcomed the debate on our performance. We have not achieved our performance standards against the eight minute target in 75% of all cases since last autumn.
“MPs highlighted many of the reasons for this, such as the delays in handover at hospital and the higher number of life-threatening calls we receive that are prioritised over less serious, green-category cases. This can sometimes result in the response to green calls being delayed that were highlighted in the debate.
“We respond to around 1,100 incidents every day and we are truly sorry for those cases where patients have a long wait. The examples given by MPs of these long waits have been investigated. The causes for the pressure on our service are due to an increase in the number of 999 incidents that are prioritised as Red calls – potentially life threatening. This has risen 21% in the last 12 months to March 2016.
“We raised our operational status to “Severe Pressure” in December 2015 under a framework to protect core services for the most vulnerable patients in the region and we were at this level for 19 weeks until it was lowered to “moderate pressure” in April 2016.
“There is currently a shortage of paramedics nationally. We have been seeking trained clinical staff as part of our workforce plan through international and national recruitment. We expect to be up to full establishment by April 2017.
“Overall system pressure is also evident with one hour and two hour handover delays being significantly higher than those last year. There were 59% more handover delays greater than one hour between January and March 2016 compared to the same period last year; and 60% more delays greater than two hours over the same period
“When there is an increased demand on our service, we must always prioritise our resources to those most in need. This means that ambulances initially assigned to Green calls will be diverted to any incoming Red calls that are potentially life-threatening emergencies. This can result in the response to these less serious calls being delayed.”