Fringe Box



A Third of Ambulance Call Outs To Be Handled Remotely

Published on: 9 Apr, 2024
Updated on: 10 Apr, 2024

A South East Coast Ambulance

By Emily Dalton

local democracy reporter

Over a third of South East Coast Ambulance (SECAmb) service responses will in future be done remotely, over the telephone or by virtual online consultation, under a new five-year strategy.

At a board meeting last week (April 4) the NHS Trust said that as it prepares for a 15 per cent increase in patient demand over the next five years its current care model is no longer “fit for purpose”. Increasing demands on the service include the increased complexity of health care, an ageing population and changing areas of deprivation.

By 2029, the Trust is aiming to signpost over a third of all its patients to another service, leaving only 65 per cent of patients with an ambulance response. The change will affect Surrey, Thames Valley, Kent and Medway as well as Sussex Integrated Care Systems (ICS).

Simon Weldon

Simon Weldon, CEO, gave a reassurance that SECAmb would still be there to protect and look after the sick who needed an ambulance. He added: “If patients don’t need an ambulance, we can help you get you to a place which can meet your healthcare needs.”

Urgent medical needs such as cardiac arrest, a stroke, heart attack, pneumonia, childbirth and newborn care would still be attended to by ambulances, the Trust said.

Delivering this strategy over the next three years, SECAmb expects it to meet emergency care needs within the national standards of 7 minutes for calls for immediate life-threatening and time-critical injuries and illnesses; and 18 minutes for emergency calls.

For non-emergency patients, virtual care will be provided via an assessment by a remote senior clinician. Meeting documents said this would enable patients to be “cared for directly or referred to the most appropriate care provider”.

A South East Coast Ambulance Service operator. Photo SECamb

Investing in a data and digital strategy was highlighted as a key part of the new direction. The board heard how new technology like AI would help the SECAmb make better decisions and lead virtual consultations. These could be used to respond to patient needs in a remote and professional setting rather than sending an ambulance.

Meeting documents revealed that 88 per cent of patients received an ambulance response; but a SECAmb officer said the outcomes from the cases indicated only 31 per cent of patients needed clinical care.

Only 12 per cent of patients are currently referred or signposted to another service rather than receiving ambulance care; but under the new strategy for 2029, this will increase to 35 per cent target.

Team member for SECAmb Matt Dechaine said: “Sending a fully kitted ambulance is a very expensive way for the public purse to respond to patient needs, when other services may be able to address it in a cost-effective way.”

Covering five years, the new strategy will be carried out in three phases: designing new models of care, collaborating with partners and developing a digital strategy; implementing the change and finalising and improving the operational model. Digitalisation of the service will begin in phase 2, with electronic health records deployed by March 2025.

SECamb identified its current model as “unsustainable when challenged” from an operational, workforce and financial perspective. The Trust found it would need to employ 600 more people over the next five years to respond to demand.

Not all non-emergency patient consultations will be resolved solely over the telephone. Simon Weldon told the board that the strategy aims to “align patient needs with ambulance services”.

Over 2,000 staff, 400 volunteers and 350 members of the public have been consulted on the strategy, with the Trust saying it has been “clinically led”. System partners have also been invited to 20 sessions to share their views.

The full new SECAmb strategy is set to be published in May 2024.


Share This Post

Responses to A Third of Ambulance Call Outs To Be Handled Remotely

  1. Mark Stamp Reply

    April 10, 2024 at 6:13 pm

    I don’t disagree that there are ambulance call outs that could be handled in other ways but are probably happening because people are not able to get the treatment they need already.

    I presume that the other healthcare providers that those in need of care will be directed towards will be A&E, GPs and local pharmacies all of which have their own pressures. Who is responsible for ensuring that there is an integrated plan rather than the various trusts each having their own plan to save money but risking people in need falling through the cracks?

    Much more focus needs to be put on improving health to reduce people getting sick in the first place, for example insulating homes so people aren’t living in damp and drafty properties.

Leave a Comment

Please see our comments policy. All comments are moderated and may take time to appear.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *