A new method of screening ambulance calls is to be introduced across England in a bid to improve response times.
NHS England wants emergency calls to be reviewed so that those concerning non-life threatening conditions can be treated elsewhere, the BBC reports. These calls are known as category two and include emergencies such as heart attacks and strokes, burns and severe headaches.
It means that members of the public with a ‘category two’ condition will be told to seek alternative treatment elsewhere, and will be referred instead to an urgent treatment clinic, a GP or a pharmacist.
Some 40% of calls classed as category two will now receive callbacks from a doctor, nurse or paramedic to investigate the possibility of an ambulance alternative.
Nearly half of those who received callbacks in trials in London and the West Midlands were advised to seek alternative treatment to an ambulance, prompting NHS England to ask the country’s eight other ambulance services to adopt the approach.
Ambulance trusts across the country are struggling to respond to 999 calls on time, with delays handing patients to A&E playing a major role.
Professor Julian Redhead, NHS England national clinical director for urgent and emergency care, 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.”
NHS England expects ambulance services to move to the new system in the next couple of weeks, with the system to be kept under review during its initial months.
It comes as ambulance workers in England continue to stage strikes in the long-running dispute over pay and staffing, with no sign of a breakthrough in the increasingly bitter row.
About 15,000 members of Unison in five areas walked out last Friday (10 February), with officials warning of escalating action in the coming weeks unless the deadlock is broken.
Later on Friday, Unite said more than 1,000 workers employed by the South Central, South East Coast and Yorkshire ambulance services had voted to join the NHS strikes. The frontline workers will join around 2,800 colleagues in the West Midlands, East Midlands, North West, North East and Wales already striking over pay.