Cameron welcomes ambitious plans for ambulance turnaround times

DUP South Antrim MLA Pam Cameron has welcomed plans by Health and Social Care Trusts to introduce a maximum limit of three hours for ambulance handover at Emergency Departments across Northern Ireland.

The new limit, which may be reduced further over the coming months, will be accompanied by a reform of the arrangements covering discharge from hospital. Patients will leave hospital no later than 48 hours after confirmation they are medically fit and where a suitable placement which can meet their needs is available.

By Pam Cameron MLA

South Antrim

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Responding to the announcement by Trust Chief Executives on Monday, Mrs Cameron said:

‘‘With ambulances routinely backed up outside our Emergency Departments for hours, Trusts are right to get to grips with serious delays facing discharge from hospital.

Nobody should face hours waiting on an ambulance or waiting to be admitted to hospital when there are viable options available to reduce delay. The introduction of a wait time of no more than three hours for ambulances is therefore a clear and important statement of intent.

Whilst these are undoubtedly difficult and sensitive decisions, they will help to reduce bed days lost, increase in-patient capacity and ensure our Health Service has the tools to secure better outcomes for those most in need.

The DUP believes every patient should be actively involved in decisions in their care and treatment. There should be ample time for a care package to be agreed while someone remains in hospital. However where this is not possible - or in circumstances where a patient’s chosen package is not immediately available - it seems reasonable for that process, if practicable, to continue in an alternative setting. This would help to maximise available acute care beds in our hospitals.

Of course, continuity of care should be paramount throughout this process. Assurances have been provided that there will be no cost to the patient or their family for interim placements. It will not affect their place on waiting list for their preferred care option. Each Trust now needs to ensure those commitments are practically honoured and that no patient is unfairly disadvantaged.’’

DUP Fermanagh & South Tyrone MLA Deborah Erskine added:

‘‘In other parts of the United Kingdom, it is already accepted that if a patient’s preferred care placement or package is not available when they become medically available for discharge, an alternativ-e which is appropriate to their health and care needs will be offered on an interim basis. This decision would bring Northern Ireland into line with that policy.

Whilst the number of beds that stand to be impacted is small, reducing length of stay in hospital will have a tangible impact by ensuring more extremely ill patients can get through the front door and receive the treatment they desperately need. It can also help revolutionise turnaround times for ambulances.

In our Assembly Election Manifesto in May, we pressed for the Department of Health to establish a powerful new unit to minimise delayed transfers from hospital. At that time, we highlighted that huge resources are squandered through patients fit for discharge requiring extended stays in hospital, awaiting confirmation of community care arrangements. This issue needs to be addressed. Therefore we strongly support the announcement by Trusts today.’’

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