THE AMBULANCE service has been fined £2.6million for missing a key target in relation to emergency calls.
Union bosses have branded the move counterproductive and warned it will only heap more pressure on the service which is facing rising demand.
West Midlands Ambulance Service is supposed to reach 75 per cent of red 1 999 calls – which includes cardiac arrests – and red 2 calls – such as strokes – in eight minutes. But while regionally the service hit the red 1 target during 2013/14, achieving 80 per cent, they only recorded 73.6 per cent for red 2 calls resulting in the fine by commissioners.
In South Worcestershire both the red 1 and red 2 targets were missed with only 66.8 per cent and 73 per cent of calls answered within the alloted time respectively. For Worcestershire as a whole just 69.8 per cent of red 1 calls were dealt with within eight minutes.
Although £1.8million has been handed back to ambulance chiefs to allow measures to be implemented to improve performance, the service has still had to use £800,000 from its savings to make up the shortfall in its finances.
A spokesman for WMAS said they missed the target on average by only 12 seconds and were exceeding all of their performance targets for 2014/15.
“We welcome the input of commissioners to work in partnership to find solutions to the challenges we face in regard to performance.”
But Ray Salmon, UNISON regional organiser, called the decision a kick in the teeth.
“This decision could be the start of a downward spiral with a future of further fines and reducing ambulance service standards and those who will suffer will be patients and local communities.”
Part of the problem the ambulance service faces is linked to the pressure on A&E and difficulties discharging patients efficiently meaning crews are often tied up outside hospitals instead of being released to answer other 999 calls. In the last financial year there were 4,690 occasions when it took longer than 30 minutes for crews to handover a patient at the Alexandra and Worcestershire Royal Hospitals. The expectation is handovers will be completed in 15 minutes or less but just 51.49 per cent took place within that time during 2013/14.
The centralisation of stroke services in the county has also caused added complications because of additional travel times resulting in commissioners having to pay for an extra ambulance and crew.