NORTH West Ambulance Service (NWAS) is £7 million short of the investment needed to bring its performance up to scratch, an independent consultant has said.
The NHS trust – which runs the ambulance service in Cheshire, Cumbria, Greater Manchester, Lancashire and Merseyside – has been working on a performance improvement plan since January 2018.
As part of the plan, NWAS worked with consultants Operational Research in Health (ORH) to see how it could make improvements – including reducing the number of rapid response vehicles and increasing the number of double-crewed ambulances it has, to make sure the correct vehicle is sent out to patients straight away.
ORH advised that additional investment of £10 million would be needed to make the improvements – but at a Cheshire East Council scrutiny committee meeting on Thursday, NWAS chiefs said the trust will receive just £3 million from commissioners depending on hitting performance targets.
Debbie Mallett, service development manager for Cheshire and Merseyside at NWAS, said: “ORH is an organisation that specialises in reconfiguration of blue-light services.
“It came in and undertook a review of our organisation, of our fleet’s profile, of what reconfigurations we’ve got going on across the region.
“It said that in order for us to meet the expected performance standards we would need £10 million, but we’ve only received £3 million.
“That’s £7 million that we are actually short on – but we are not getting another £7 million, we are only getting £3 million.”
Between January and September 2018, NWAS had an average response time of 8 minutes 58 seconds for patients in Cheshire East with critical ‘category one’ issues – such as cardiac arrest – compared to the national standard target of seven minutes.
At the same time, the average response time for ‘category two’ incidents requiring rapid assessment or urgent transport – such as a heart attack, epilepsy or stroke – was 23 minutes 7 seconds, compared to the national target of 18 minutes.
NWAS dealt with a total of 38,279 incidents in Cheshire East during that time – including 3,443 ‘category one’ incidents and 19,235 ‘category two’ incidents.
“We still see some challenges over performance,” said Roger Jones, sector manager at NWAS.
“Part of those challenges are to do with the activity levels that we currently have, which are still increasing year on year.
“Delays in other part of the [NHS] system cause us some delays as well, however we have seen some improvements on the ‘category one’ performance, and certainly the ‘category three and four’ performance, which is the lower acuity calls.”
NWAS is currently undergoing a ‘roster review’ to make sure its staff can meet patient demand to further improve performance, while a consultant is now always available at the NWAS call centre to provide better assessments of patients before sending paramedics out.
The trust is also required to find savings of £9.8 million in 2018-19.