Last Thursday, Audlem Online reported the latest appalling delay in the North West Ambulance Service's response to a call-out in Audlem. This time the victim was a man in his eighties, with a broken pelvis and badly broken leg, who had to lie in the road, the A525 Whitchurch Road, for an hour after an accident.
We showed the ambulance service our report on Thursday and they supplied their version of the call-out response time. They say the ambulance arrived in 41 minutes and the injured man was on his way to hospital in exactly 60 minutes. Unfortunately, in common with the two incidents a year ago that led to the public meeting in Audlem Public Hall in June, there is a significant discrepancy between the NWAS figures and those reported by the people making the 999 call.
In June, the NWAS deputy chief executive Bob Williams' explained the differences, in part, by saying that the 'official time' of the call-out starts once an ambulance has been allocated to a case, not when the 999 call is received. This seems ever-more curious – it could allow any inefficiency in the ambulance service's communications systems to be missed out of the service's all-important 'targets'.
The second reason last week's incident was only just over twice the target call-out time is that a man in his eighties, lying in the road with a broken pelvis and badly broken leg, doesn't count in the NWAS's view as an emergency. They say it was classed as an 'amber' call as it wasn't life-threatening! An amber call has a much less onerous target. (The NWAS have asked us to say that an 'amber' call which, although not life-threatening, is still classed as a serious emergency call)
As everyone who deals with the public services knows, 'targets' are everything. Unfortunately, it's all too often the case that targets get manipulated. Two Audlem residents, both highly professional people experienced in the NHS, have explained some of what goes on. One said: "Today there are two National Health Services. One is the 'Virtual' NHS, full of 'initiatives' and 'targets', where figures are produced to ensure those targets are met, where 'initiatives' come and go at an incredible rate, and the Government is kept happy. The other is the real NHS, full of hard-working people trying to provide a good service, despite all the obstacles."
We hope that isn't the case with the response times of the North West Ambulance Service. The service has sent figures to the Parish Council but they are extremely difficult to make any sense of and clarification is being sought. (The NWAS have said they have not yet had feedback to say that there are any problems with the information that they sent)
We hope to hear more from the NWAS. We are sure anyone in a rural area, who may need an ambulance at some stage in their lives, will also want to see the improved service Bob Williams promised to the people of Audlem and local MP Stephen O'Brien. On the basis of what happened last week, that promise seems pretty hollow.
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