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New priorities for the ambulance service

Author: Sarah Houston

An overhaul of ambulance response targets aims to create more efficiency for the NHS.

The reforms hope to see those classed as having a life-threatening condition, responded to and treated as swiftly as possible.

Currently, 50% of calls are classed as life-threatening and the target for an ambulance response is 8 minutes. This often means that several ambulances are dispatched at once and stood down when the first ambulance arrives.

The changes will see new categories of call:

  • Life-threatening conditions to be responded to within 15 minutes, expected to form 8% of calls.
  •  Emergency conditions to be responded to within 40 minutes, expected to form 48% of calls.
  •  Urgent conditions to be responded to within 120 minutes and non-urgent conditions to be responded to within 180 minutes, expected to form the remainder of the calls.

When ambulance call handlers receive a call, they currently have 60 seconds to make a decision as to whether the person is suffering from a life-threatening condition or not. This may be a straightforward task when faced with the red flag symptoms for a cardiac arrest, however, less so for sepsis or a pulmonary embolism.

Under the new system, ambulance call handlers will have 4 minutes to correctly assess the seriousness of a patient’s condition and categorise the call. Whilst the additional time is undoubtedly a benefit, there is less room for error during this process.

With non-urgent calls having a response time of up to 3 hours, it is hoped that the system will encourage the use of other transport and services in non-emergency situations and end the over-reliance on the ambulance service.

It is anticipated that the changes will be implemented from autumn 2017.



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