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News : Talks to Keep 999 Crews in Teesdale
July 20, 2014 -- Campaigners are in talks to end the practice of call centre operators directing Teesdale ambulances away from the dale.
A contract agreed in 2007 says Teesdale and Weardale’s crews must be kept in the local area, although they can leave when a crew is nearest to a life-threatening emergency.
However, a "clinical escalation" policy is trumping this special deal by allowing HQ staff to summon ambulances from Teesdale if there is a shortage of ambulances, it is claimed.
Teesdale’s ambulance monitoring group says the practice is happening often. The group says Teesdale patients now have to wait longer for ambulances because they are travelling from far away to cover local ones.
Tony Cooke, a member of the watchdog, told this month’s town council meeting that a new contract for Teesdale’s ambulances was being "hammered out".
He said clinical escalation meant serious "green" category calls could be re-designated to "red" – a much more life-threatening category. Mr Cooke, also a town councillor, said: "We have said it is wrong and should not be happening and we are trying to put an end to that.
"Ambulances from the dales are obliged to go to the red call. I do not think it is justifiable to increase a green call to a red one just because an ambulance from Teesdale is the nearest."
These kinds of situations happen when an ambulance from Teesdale takes a patient to hospital and then has to respond to a call-out on its way back, he said.
"The ambulances should come back to Teesdale, not spend three or four hours going round County Durham," Mr Cooke added.
Teesdale has the unique arrangement of having ring-fenced crews because of its distance from urgent care centres and hospitals. A new contract for Teesdale is being agreed with Durham Dales, Easington and Sedgefield Clinical Commissioning Group, which is responsible for planning local health services. Mr Cooke said the monitoring group wants this contract to include a pledge to stop "clinical escalation" affecting Teesdale.
The process is followed by the North East Ambulance Service call centre when demand throughout the region is higher than normal.
Meanwhile, proposals on the table would see an end to Teesdale’s arrangements, which at present give the district has two double crew paramedic ambulances based in Barnard Castle. Half the dale’s paramedics would be replaced by much less qualified ambulance staff. Mr Cooke said this could mean it takes longer for patients to get to hospital because one paramedic would have much more work to do than two.
In May, town councillors voted that a public meeting was needed so residents could have a say But this month councillors agreed to wait until firm plans were on the table.
Mr Cooke also said the 111 non-emergency phone number was not being used correctly.
"Controllers are taking the easy way out and sending an ambulance," said Mr Cooke, adding that this was taking ambulances away from critical cases.
Town councillors agreed to write to the North East Ambulance Service and the commissioning group to protest about "escalation" policy and to ask that local ambulances stay in the area. Cllr Tom Deacon raised concerns about the situation, while Cllr Gary Marshall added: "I want to know that the next time I ring 999 for my daughter, I will not have to wait for an hour."
The North East Ambulance Service rejected claims that clinical escalation turns a "green" call "red".
A spokeswoman said: "A call is only upgraded from a green to a red when a patient’s condition deteriorates.
"Clinical escalation is when the volume of calls we are dealing with reaches such a level that we are fully stretched as an organisation.
"If an incident occurred in the dales which required extra paramedics to be sent in, we would do so, even though their base was outside the area. They would not stop because of a line on the map. It works both ways."
She added that any suggestion that call centre staff are manipulating patient records to meet performance targets is absurd.
"What is actually happening is that demand for ambulances has massively increased in recent years, and will continue to do so as people live longer and develop more complex conditions that need treatment," the ambulance service added.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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Published: Tuesday, July 22, 2014