Ambulance service covering the Banbury area declares a 'critical incident' as demand becomes 'overwhelming'
South Central Ambulance Service (SCAS) appealed to the public to only call 999 in a life-threatening emergency. A perfect storm of a surge in demand coupled with increasing pressure from Covid has caused the service to be subject to 'extreme pressures'.
Ambulance services have been under pressure all year and even in mid summer, managers at SCAS said demand was similar to that experienced at New Year.This weekend patients were warned to expect longer waits for an ambulance to get to them.
A tweet on Saturday said: "South Central Ambulance Service has declared a critical incident due to extreme pressures across our services. Our staff and volunteers are working extremely hard to respond to calls but the volume is overwhelming.
"Please, please support us by using our services wisely, we're here for life-threatening illnesses and injuries. Thank you so much."
The reasons for the pressures are reportedly GP waiting list backlogs, queues at A&E departments and patients who have not been able to access treatment during the pandemic.
Last month SCAS asked tech-savvy people to help those less comfortable with technology to use NHS 111 Online before calling an ambulance.
Alan Lofthouse, a senior UNISON national officer and former paramedic, said in a blog for The Yorkshire Post in August: "Recent figures show that in just two years, the number of ‘category one’ (life threatening) incidents rose by more than a quarter (27.2 per cent), and overall activity was up by a tenth. Nationally, there’s an annual funding gap of more than £200m.
"Problems have been building, ignored by government, and largely hidden until the pandemic tested ambulance services to the limit with huge surges in demand.
"That’s because many people with chronic health conditions haven’t been accessing NHS support during the Covid crisis. Not until it gets to the stage where they need urgent help and they then ring 999 or 111. And that’s putting a strain on the system.
"Last month (July) was the busiest ever for ambulance services, with more than a million 999 calls.
"Ambulance services have made it this far through the pandemic by using resource escalation action plans (REAP). These focus all the service’s resources on getting ambulances to patients.
"Hitting the highest REAP used to be an exception. But it’s now the norm. We’ve seen many ambulance services raising their REAP levels to the max far too often – and keeping them there for extended periods. The consequences are disastrous.
"Staff already work standard 12-hour shifts, either responding to patients or in control centres, taking calls and dispatching ambulances. Many have no break to stop and eat. They frequently get calls near the end of a shift that then overruns, sometimes by hours. It’s not a job where you check your watch and say ‘right, I’m done’."
Mr Lofthouse said A&E departments were under pressure and suffering reduce capacity to accommodation patients who are left waiting on stretchers in corridors or in ambulances outside.
"There’s immense pressure on control staff too. With hundreds of calls often stacking up during shifts, anxiety levels can go through the roof, with workers worried they’ll miss real emergencies among the many less-pressing calls," he said.
"The toll on staff is immense, physically and mentally. Sickness rates are up, leaving fewer people to cover this extra demand and exhausting those that are left. These are pressures normally only seen in a deep winter crisis, not July and August when NHS staff should be taking a break and resting.
"Last week, the government announced that the army was being brought in to support some ambulance services. This is evidence of a crisis that could have been averted, should have been foreseen and must be a wake-up call to the government."
Read Mr Lofthouse's blog here.