Ambulance meeting in Nantwich

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It was a good job that Audlem residents were out in (relative) force at yesterday afternoon's LINk meeting in Nantwich Civic Hall to hear a presentation by the North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) and to raise issues.

An amazing 75% of the attendees were from Audlem or Buerton; indeed, one rural lane outside the village produced more attendees than Crewe, Nantwich, Shavington etc combined. It sounds like Nantwich needs a website to promote such events as few from the town, except two Cheshire East councillors, turned up.

We hear that the NWAS presenter warily commented before the meeting: "I hear there's a few from Audlem here." We can't imagine what he was concerned about as constructive suggestions and responsible questions were asked of Pete Ditcham, Operational Service Manager at NWAS, a highly experienced ambulance man who gave an interesting presentation.

Thin on the groundSeveral points arose. It was clear from the population statistics and ambulance numbers that the south of Cheshire appears to have proportionally fewer ambulances in the area than the region as a whole — a minimum of one and maximum of three based out of Crewe. However, another ambulance has been added to the fleet recently.

The number of calls for ambulances has been increasing sharply. The targets are getting tougher too, with the clock now ticking from the second a 999 call is received rather than, typically, 30 seconds into the call as used to be the case. Targets are being missed, with just 67.7% of 'red' calls being met within 8 minutes in the Central & East Cheshire area — 75% is the target. It's likely to be worse in rural areas like Audlem. Fortunately, the village is not considered 'remote', a fate reserved for some areas to the west of Audlem.

Waiting at A&EOne clear problem that emerged was that ambulances can be stuck outside hospitals with their patients when Accident & Emergency departments are very busy. The A&E departments have targets too, and won't accept patients when they cannot cope, a clear case of conflicting targets getting in the way of efficiency. Not being able to deliver their patient into A&E means an ambulance and crew is tied up and can't answer other emergency calls.

When asked how long these waits at the hospital can be, we were told they can be very lengthy. The worst the speaker had experienced was a five hour wait outside Aintree Hospital. We only hope it wasn't on Grand National Day. If so, jockeys at future meetings will be well advised not to take a tumble over Aintree's fearsome fences!

The meeting was a fascinating insight into the way the NWAS operates. It's only a pity that it was virtually limited to an Audlem audience when people across south Cheshire would have heard much of interest about a vital emergency service.