Otter Valley councillor helps secure review of ambulance service crisis

The situation has been described as ‘unprecedented’

Philippa Davies 

An urgent review is to explore the crisis in the South Western Ambulance Service and the issues that are causing it. 

A Devon County Council task group will look into the reasons for the extremely high demand on the service and the delays at hospitals that are hitting ambulance response times.

The review was secured by the county councillor for the Otter Valley, Jess Bailey, at a meeting of the health and adult care scrutiny committee on Thursday, November 11. 

The emergency service has been under extraordinary pressure for 18 months and since June this year has been on ‘black alert’ – the highest level. 

An executive director of the ambulance trust, Jess Cunningham, who attended the meeting remotely, described the situation as ‘unprecedented’. 

The committee heard of the serious problems around handover delays at acute hospitals, particularly at Derriford and Torbay, which has worsened significantly in the last twelve months. They were told: ‘there is definite patient harm being created’ and the environment for ambulance staff is ‘incredibly difficult’. 

Cllr Bailey proposed what is known as a ‘spotlight review’ – an in-depth consideration of a service by a small group of councillors who take evidence from relevant people and organisations. The proposal was seconded by Cllr Martin Wrigley and the committee resolved to undertake a review, looking at the delays in transfers, response times, impact on patients and personnel and the role of the NHS 111 service. 

Cllr Bailey said: “An urgent Spotlight Review is very important in order to understand the specific challenges faced by our ambulance service here in Devon.  

“The report from SWAST confirmed what I have long suspected. Paramedics are having to wait hours to admit patients to hospital. Ambulance services provide a link between the NHS – primary, community and secondary care. Pressure on ambulance services reflects the crises across the whole system and shines a light on the situation facing the NHS.” 

She said the latest data, published last week, shows that average response times to the most serious cases has continued to increase in the South West in October. The past six months has seen an increase in average response time from 8 minutes and 3 seconds to 11 minutes and 48 seconds.   

Cllr Bailey said “A Spotlight Review will enable a close examination of the issues that were touched on in the Scrutiny Meeting which are contributing to pressure on SWAST, including handover delays, and issues around community urgent care, and the 111 service.”