999 chief’s fears for winter call-out spike

Major concerns: (below) Bob Williams, chief executive of the North West Ambulance Service has told of fears about the service's ability to cope this winter if the unprecedented current number of incidents does not slow down
Major concerns: (below) Bob Williams, chief executive of the North West Ambulance Service has told of fears about the service's ability to cope this winter if the unprecedented current number of incidents does not slow down
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The boss of the ambulance service which covers the Fylde coast has spoken of serious fears about being able to cope with a spike in emergency call-outs this winter.

Bob Williams, chief executive of the North West Ambulance Service, has spoken of an alarming rise in 999 calls which have stretched the service.

Major concerns: (below) Bob Williams, chief executive of the North West Ambulance Service has told of fears about the service's ability to cope this winter if the unprecedented current number of incidents does not slow down

Major concerns: (below) Bob Williams, chief executive of the North West Ambulance Service has told of fears about the service's ability to cope this winter if the unprecedented current number of incidents does not slow down

And he fears if the usual spike in winter call outs is added on top, “there is concern about our ability to cope.”

It comes after figures reveal that life-threatening “red” call-outs are currently 15 per cent up on the same spell last year – and showing no sign of dropping.

“If we get a normal winter hike in activity on top of the current level, there is a concern about our ability – not just as an ambulance service but as the NHS as a whole – to cope adequately with the winter,” warned Mr Williams.

Services across the country have been hit by an extraordinary rise in 999 calls this year.

North West Ambulance is now getting around 4,000 pleas for help every day – nine per cent up overall – with around 1,200 of those given “red” status because they could potentially prove fatal.

Priority cases have meant some calls deemed less serious have been kept waiting for an ambulance. But the service denies the problems are partly due to cutbacks in funding.

“It is not that we have cut back resources,” said Mr Williams. “Yes, we had plans to do that and we have been absolutely open about that and we took the heat in the press about that too. But we didn’t invoke those plans.”

With the unseasonal increase in 999 calls continuing to worry the service, bosses are now looking at how they can cater for a winter spike of potentially life-threatening incidents on top.

“One hopes that this activity does go down to some kind of norm prior to the winter, or the winter spike isn’t as high as it normally is,” said Mr Williams. “We were dealing with 1,080 to 1,090 red calls out of 4,000 a day in the North West prior to the spike which came at the end of May or beginning of June.

“We are now dealing with 1,190 to more than 1,200 a day. And if this continues I think there is a real concern within the NHS.

“We have had a very difficult three months – activity has been way beyond the norm.

“The spike has been huge and it has been unprecedented in terms of the length of time it has lasted and the period of the year that it has happened. This doesn’t normally happen across the summer months. No-one fully understands why it has happened. What on earth has caused it and continues to cause it?

“It is showing no signs of abating. It has plateaued instead of going down. But this isn’t just in our region, it is across the country.

“At the moment we are planning for the current level of activity being where it is and the winter activity going on top of that. And that is going to be quite a tall order.”