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'Extremely busy' ambulance service urges people not to misuse facility

"We are very busy," says East of England Ambulance Service (EEAS) Trust that caters to Peterborough and Cambridgeshire.
ambulance-EEAST
East of England Ambulance Service Trust says it's "very busy" (Photo: Charlotte Moore)

They are therefore urging people to help them meet the rising demand by choosing the right service and not misusing the facility. 

On Wednesday (November 17), the Health Secretary said the NHS is under “huge pressure” which could worsen as the nights get “darker and colder”.

Sajid Javid acknowledged that urgent and emergency care services were facing “huge demand”. It comes amid rising concerns about the urgent and emergency care sector. 

On Tuesday Amanda Pritchard, the head of the NHS in England, said pressures on emergency care systems in hospitals are “even greater” than those caused by Covid. 

Asked about ambulance pressures during Prime Minister’s Questions, Boris Johnson told the House of Commons: “I appreciate that ambulance crews and ambulance services are doing an amazing job, particularly at this time of year, and I thank them for what they are doing. 

“We are supporting them with more cash, another £450 million was awarded to 120 trusts to upgrade their facilities and we’re putting another £36 billion into dealing with the backlog which is fundamentally affecting the NHS so badly at the moment through the levy that we’ve instituted.” 

Figures from NHS England show the mean response time to Category 2 calls, which include strokes and other emergencies, was more than 45 minutes in September, compared with a target average of 18 minutes.

The statistics, which were released in October, also show that response times for all categories are the longest since data was first collected in England in April 2018.

Figures also show targets are being missed for the most serious – or Category 1 – calls, with the standard of an average of seven minutes missed, with an average response time in England of nine minutes and one second in September.

These strains are being felt within Peterborough's regional ambulance service as well, with the trust saying “current pressures on the healthcare system are extreme” which mean it is "very difficult to provide as timely a response to their patients as they would like."

EEAS published this statement, asking people to cooperate with them amid these stressful times: “If it is not a life-threatening emergency, please use NHS 111 online which will help direct you to the most appropriate service. 

“We are here to help and we are doing our best to help everyone.  

“If it is a life-threatening emergency, please call 999 immediately. Each call we receive is prioritised by clinical need – from a category one (life-threatening injuries and illnesses) to a category four which are less urgent calls. 

“For their most serious patients, ambulance average response time should be within seven minutes and 9 out of 10 ambulances should arrive in 15 minutes. 

“However, current pressures on the healthcare system are extreme and mean it is very difficult to provide as timely a response to our patients as we would like.  If your healthcare need is urgent, however, you will be prioritised and we will be with you as soon as possible. 

“Calling 111 can help you get care more quickly for non-urgent problems. If you call 999 and it’s not a life-threatening emergency, you will be waiting longer for an ambulance crew as our control room and ambulance crews deal with the most seriously ill or injured patients first. 

“Calling 999 does not guarantee that you will be sent an ambulance.  Our call handlers will ask you a series of questions to assess your clinical needs and our Emergency Clinical Advice and Triage (ECAT) teams can also offer advice and direct patients to other services. This helps reduce the pressure on EEAST and also on A&E departments in hospitals across the region, which are all experiencing high demand. 

“Arriving at an A&E department in an ambulance does not mean you will be seen more quickly on arrival.  If you can safely make your own way to hospital, please do so, patient arriving at hospital are triaged into clinical priority regardless of how they arrived. “ 

The trust has issued the following advice through which you can further help ease their pressures:  

  • Avoid having multiple people calling about the same incident or patient. 
  • One call will provide us with the information we need to send help. Multiple callers for the same incident tie up our lines and prevent us from helping others also in need at that time. 
  • Our call handlers cannot provide you with an estimated time of arrival for an ambulance.  If you are calling back and the patient’s condition has not changed, please tell us at the start of the call. We are very busy and trying to get to our sickest patients as quickly as possible. 
  • Always let us know if you no longer need an ambulance. 
  • If you no longer need an ambulance or are making your own way to hospital, please let us know so our crews can help someone else. 
  • Do not use aggressive or threatening behaviour with our staff.  We appreciate that all 999 calls are important and people can be scared or upset when they call. However, this will not help get care to you quicker and can lengthen the call, further delaying help to you or others. 

Earlier last week (November 10), the EEAS experienced a Computer Aided Dispatch and telephony systems failure which impacted their response to incidents and emergencies. 

The national contingency plan was enacted and 999 calls were rerouted to neighbouring ambulance services while the fault was traced and fixed. 

On Wednesday (November 17), a second Ambulance Trust in the country suffered similar “significant IT issues” overnight.

But in an update at 6pm South East Coast Ambulance Service said: “We’ve been working hard throughout the day to resolve the situation. 

“We’re pleased that we are now starting to bring our systems back online but there is a need for further periods of testing in the coming hours.” 

It is the second time in a week that a technical problem has caused an issue with an ambulance service.