Lack of ambulance cover in Weston 'playing with people's lives'
PUBLISHED: 07:50 28 July 2017 | UPDATED: 08:40 28 July 2017
The ambulance service has been accused of 'playing with people's lives' by its own workers, who say as few as two ambulances are covering Weston and its surrounding villages at night.
South Western Ambulance Service NHS Trust (SWASFT) has recently changed rotas for staff and emergency vehicles, prompting employees to hit out at the high demand they are facing.
Staff describe the service as ‘a joke’ and say the people of Weston ‘deserve better’ as they recount leaving sick people waiting for hours before help arrived.
The recent temporary overnight closure of Weston General Hospital’s A&E department has put more pressure on the service, as patients must now be taken to Bristol or Taunton, but SWASFT insists there is adequate cover in North Somerset.
It says changes will ‘improve patient experience’ but a paramedic and emergency medical technician (EMT) say times are so tough staff with almost 30 years’ experience are leaving to become bus drivers.
The workers – who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals – said they will spend almost an entire shift in Bristol, despite being assigned to cover Weston at night while the town’s A&E is now temporarily closed.
Ambulance employees told the Mercury Weston’s people ‘deserve better’ and fear the town’s new temporary overnight A&E closure is ‘dangerous’.
SWASFT protocols state any ambulance which leaves its area is sent straight back, unless it is the closest vehicle to a time-critical and life-threatening incident.
One paramedic said: “When we get into Bristol you won’t see us again, we will be called back to Bristol jobs.
“The only way we are going to get back to Weston, or Nailsea, is if they have got a P1 call, which is the highest priority you can get.
“They are playing with people’s lives – there’s no doubt about it.
“It’s really poor for the people of Weston – the area is growing all the time.
“We have had people left on the floor for two to three hours at a time, people lying down with a broken hip freezing. That, to the ambulance service, is a low-priority call-out.
“The ambulance service is a joke. They are not worried about you, the public, or their staff; they are just worried about target times.”
One EMT said: “The public seem to think there are a lot of ambulances in Weston, but there’s not.
“People living in Weston and the villages aren’t getting the cover they deserve.
“We have left people waiting hours and they don’t understand why… there’s two or three ambulances in Weston overnight.”
Weston’s MP John Penrose agreed the overnight A&E closure has had an impact on ambulances.
He said: “It puts more strain on the service.
“What happens if we are systematically shipping people out of Weston to Bristol and Taunton, is ambulances end up in the wrong places and are not in Weston when we need them.
“At the moment they are hitting their performances targets for the most serious, life-threatening conditions.
“There is a danger ambulances may stay in Bristol more often if they are shipping people up and down the M5 in the middle of the night.”
Ambulance service denies issues
SWASFT rolled out a review of its rotas in North Somerset on July 3, the day before Weston’s A&E was closed overnight on safety grounds.
Its spokesman refuted the workers’ claims saying there are more than two ambulances covering Weston at night, but would not reveal any figures.
They said the rota review means there are now double-crewed ambulances on for an extra 26 hours each day in North Somerset, and added: “(It was undertaken) so we can provide an improved patient experience, making sure the right resources are in the right place at the right time to meet the growing public demand for our services and manage peak times in activity.
“Evidence shows patients with the most serious time-critical, life-threatening injuries have improved response times and ambulance resources stay local more of the time.”
Hospital boss happy with ambulance cover
The hospital’s chief executive James Rimmer says the changes the ambulance service have made in recent weeks have been positive, given the A&E is shut from 10pm-8am each day as a temporary measure at the moment.
Speaking at a Weston Town Council meeting on Monday, he said the service is ‘coping well’, and was satisfied extra services had been put on in the afternoon and overnight to meet demand.