Although patients have reported long waits for ambulances in recent weeks – including a 78-year-old woman who had to wait almost 14 hours and a father who feared he would die after waiting 10 hours – the latest figures reveal the South East Coast Ambulance NHS Trust (Secamb) has actually improved its service.
The NHS last week released ‘quality indicator data’ showing the performance of the country’s 11 ambulance services in May.
The statistics record the average response time of each ambulance service to various categories of calls.
To Category 1 calls – the most urgent requiring immediate medical attention – SECAmb’s average response time was 8 minutes 29 seconds, an improvement from the 9 minutes 34 seconds recorded in March.
This ranked the trust fourth out of 11 ambulance services nationwide. The best performance was London Ambulance at 7 minutes and the worst performance was South Western at 10 minutes 44 seconds.
A subgroup is category 1T, i.e. the time it takes to get a vehicle to transport a patient if needed. Secamb came sixth at 10 minutes 15 seconds, with the North East Ambulance Service being the best at 8 minutes 21 seconds and the worst in the East Midlands at 16 minutes 30 seconds.
Category 2 cases are serious cases that may require rapid assessment and urgent transport.
Here, Secamb averaged 28 minutes 41 seconds, down from a 39-minute wait in March.
This put the service third in the standings, with the best in the Isle of Wight at 22 minutes 19 seconds and the worst in the South West at 56 minutes 15 seconds.
Category 3 cases are an urgent problem, such as an uncomplicated diabetes problem, that requires treatment and transport to an acute care facility such as a hospital.
Secamb achieved an average response time of 2h 4min and 1s, which puts him in fifth place in the ranking.
Again, the Isle of Wight was the best at 1 hour 46 seconds, while the West Midlands was the worst at 2 hours 38 minutes 7 seconds.
Category 4 calls are non-emergency issues, such as clinical cases that are stable but require transport to a hospital ward or clinic.
Secamb averaged 2:53:4, which puts her in eighth place in the standings. Again, the Isle of Wight was the best at 1:19:59, while the North West was the worst at 3:25:31.
In total, the Secamb made 57,969 trips in May, an average of 1,869 per day.
Its call operators handled a total of 1,027,009 calls that month, the sixth highest total of the 11 ambulance services.
A Secamb spokesperson said: “All ambulance services continue to be under pressure and are not performing as expected.
“It is clear that there is still a lot to be done to improve our response times.
“It should be noted, however, that for the month of May, Secamb was ahead of the national average in the three highest call categories, with one of the shortest response times for category calls 2 where approximately 60% of 999 calls fall.
“As we continue to face periods of high demand, we would like to thank our staff and volunteers for their hard work and commitment.
“We are doing everything we can to reach those who need help as quickly as possible, while prioritizing our response to our most seriously ill and injured patients.
“We continue to work closely with hospitals in our area to minimize transfer delays to ensure we are in the best position possible to care for patients in the community requiring ambulance response.
“The public can help us manage the demand by only calling 999 in an emergency.
“We also urge everyone to use alternatives to 999 for help and advice, including speaking to their GP, a pharmacist, visiting 111.nhs.uk or calling 111.”