NHS announce new strategy to improve ambulance response times

Written by on 16th February 2023

Ambulance response times are set to improve as plans have been announced for a new way of assessing emergency calls.

NHS England will ask staff to review if calls, unless life-threatening, can be treated elsewhere. 

The calls, known as ‘category two’ calls, include emergencies such as heart attacks and strokes. But the category also covers less serious issues, such as burns and severe headaches which do not require such a fast response. 

Medical experts will be on hand in ambulance control rooms to issue quicker callbacks, as around 40% of category two calls currently do not require ambulance responses. 

Professor Julian Redhead of NHS England said: “This new system will allow a conversation between a nurse and paramedic or a doctor and the patient – and between them, they’ll be able to decide whether an ambulance is the best response or whether no ambulance is required and they’re better cared for in a different environment.

“It’s really important that people know it doesn’t mean anyone loses their place in the queue (while they are assessed). What it does is provide more individualised care for a patient but also allows us to free up the resource for our most vulnerable patients, patients who will have had strokes and heart attacks.” 

In December, the average response time for category two ambulance calls – including those which could be strokes or heart attacks – was one hour, 36 minutes and 23 seconds. But 10% were waiting longer than three hours, 39 minutes for an ambulance to arrive from North East Ambulance Service. 

In January, the average response time did drop to around 32 minutes – but the target is 18. 

Successful trials in London and the West Midlands have led to the NHS expanding the plans to all ambulance trusts.  

Sir Julian Hartley, chief executive at NHS Providers, said: “This is a welcome step to safely respond to pressure on ambulance services and hospitals. The focus is on ensuring patients’ needs are met in the right place.

“However, reducing demand at the front door isn’t enough to ensure sustained improvement. Pressures in the ambulance service are linked to pressures across the whole system. We need to focus on reducing high bed occupancy, increasing bed capacity, and reducing delayed discharges through increased investment in social care and community services, too.” 

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