Otter Valley councillor instigates review of ambulance service crisis

Ambulance. Picture: South Western Ambulance Service.

Ambulance. Picture: South Western Ambulance Service. - Credit: Archant

An urgent review is to explore the crisis in the South Western Ambulance Service and the issues that are causing it. 

A Devon County Council task group will look into the reasons for the extremely high demand on the service and the long response times, exacerbated by delays in transferring patients from ambulances into hospitals. 

A preliminary meeting on Monday, November 29 will decide the timetable and scope of the review, who will chair the task group, and who will be invited to give evidence.  

The review was proposed by the county councillor for the Otter Valley, Jess Bailey, at this month’s meeting of the health and adult care scrutiny committee. 

The emergency service has been under extraordinary pressure for 18 months and since June this year has been on ‘black alert’ - the highest level. 

Addressing the meeting, an executive director of the ambulance trust, Jess Cunningham, described the situation as ‘unprecedented’. 

The committee heard of the serious problems around handover delays at acute hospitals, particularly at Derriford and Torbay, which have worsened significantly in the last twelve months. They were told: “There is definite patient harm being created” and the environment for ambulance staff is ‘incredibly difficult’. 

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Cllr Bailey proposed what is known as a ‘spotlight review’ - an in-depth examination of a service by a small group of councillors who take evidence from relevant people and organisations and explore possible solutions. The committee voted unanimously in favour of it. 

Cllr Bailey said: “An urgent spotlight review is very important in order to understand the specific challenges faced by our ambulance service here in Devon.  

“The report from SWAST confirmed what I have long suspected. Paramedics are having to wait hours to admit patients to hospital. Ambulance services provide a link between the NHS - primary, community and secondary care. Pressure on ambulance services reflects the crises across the whole system and shines a light on the situation facing the NHS.” 

She added that she is keen to get the review under way as soon as possible, because ‘the crisis is happening now’. The latest data showed that ambulance response times continued to increase during October.