Headlines: September 28th, 1998

The underlying message from the Audit Commission report into Britain’s ambulance services is that closer working between hospitals and all emergency services is the only way to meet increasing demands.The ambulance service is struggling to cope with a forty per cent rise in emergency calls since 1990. In the past all 999 calls have received the same priority. Services are now being required to respond even faster to life-threatening incidents without downgrading the response to less urgent calls.

The commission’s report, A Life in the Fast Lane, calls on partner services to upgrade their relationship with ambulance trusts. It says hospitals should minimise delays to crews, fire, police and neighbouring ambulance services should identify opportunities to work together, and that health authorities should co-ordinate ambulance plans with wider health strategies

Warwickshire has been highlighted as a good example of working together. Warwickshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust and Fire and Rescue Service share a joint operations room allowing life-saving information to be supplied directly to fire crews, a facility for dispatching a fire crew as first responders, and a co-ordinated approach to major incidents.

The report recommends that the Government reopen debate on having a wider range of response to 999 calls, and on whether some people, after paramedic treatment, could be left at home rather than being taken to hospital.

The report is available from the Audit Commission for L20, or see the commission’s website at www.audit-commission.gov.uk/ac2/NR/main_HEB.htm