Scotland

Ambulance response system changes 'will save lives'

ambulance crew Image copyright Scottish Ambulance Service

A new ambulance response system is expected to reduce the proportion of calls requiring the fastest call-out by almost three-quarters.

The Scottish Ambulance Service is to trial a new system aimed at prioritising life-threatening calls such as car crashes and cardiac arrest.

It said the proportion of calls requiring the fastest response time of eight minutes would fall by 74%.

Other calls would be prioritised by clinical need, with no time target.

The new model has three levels of response:

  • Immediately life-threatening calls, such as a cardiac arrest, will maintain the current eight-minute target.
  • Calls requiring a fast response and transfer to a healthcare facility will be prioritised by clinical need and receive a blue-light response but with no time target.
  • Other calls will be "managed safely at home" or by referral to GPs, NHS 24 or social care services.

The first category includes serious road accidents, patients who are unconscious and not breathing, and pregnant or very young patients.

The second category includes people with chest pains, breathing problems or stroke symptoms.

The service said a year-long review of clinical data found 103,708 calls were classed as needing an eight-minute response but this was later found unnnecessary.

Image copyright J M Briscoe
Image caption Calls requring transfer to a health facility would still get a blue light response

In response to a Liberal Democrat Freedom of Information request, the ambulance service said: "In terms of 999 calls, the proportion of calls categorised as requiring an eight-minute response will change from 30.6% of the total volume to approximately 8% of the total volume."

Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton said: "These new figures reveal that the number of calls requiring an eight-minute response is set to be cut by almost three-quarters as the service prioritises those calls which are the most urgent.

"In August, Scottish Liberal Democrats highlighted the pressure our ambulance service was under when we uncovered that over 4,000 of the most urgent call-outs took longer than 20 minutes for an ambulance to arrive.

"If this system can avoid this happening and ensure crews get to those suffering cardiac arrests or caught in car crashes even quicker, then it is worth piloting."

'Minutes to live'

Scottish Ambulance Service chief executive Pauline Howie said the new system would save more lives and improve the quality of care for patients.

He said: "The model is based on the most extensive, clinically-evidenced review of its kind ever undertaken in the UK, involving almost 500,000 patient cases.

"This review will help us send patients the right response based on their health needs.

"We will be able to respond faster to more patients with time-critical, immediately life-threatening conditions, such as cardiac arrest. These are patients who may only have minutes to live without intervention.

"In other situations, we will safely and more effectively send more patients the response they need first time, improving clinical outcomes. Many patients whose lives are not in immediate danger will still receive a response within eight minutes even though this is not clinically required."

Chief Medical Officer Catherine Calderwood said: "I am persuaded by the extensive clinical evidence that has been put forward and know that patient safety is at the heart of these changes.

"We are keeping these changes under close review over the next 12 months to ensure that we are seeing the improvements to patient safety and patient outcomes that are expected."

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