Ambulance bosses have today defended plans for a £3,000 trip to the USA on a fact-finding mission – at the same time the service is missing its response time targets.
Figures show the North West Ambulance service has not met its latest targets amid an increasing number of high priority calls.
And in a bid to tackle the problem it is looking at joint working with Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service, including by taking a six-day trip to Seattle to see how the emergency services team up there.
Ambulance chiefs say the six-day ‘educational visit’ will cost £3,000 and that it has not been funded from the operational budget and “will not impact on frontline services”.
But critics say the trip is “not the answer” and they are shocked it is going ahead.
North West Ambulance Service Director of Operations Derek Cartwright said: “Last year (April 2014-March 2015) was particularly challenging for the North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) due to an unprecedented increase in 999 activity.
The trip to Seattle is about us learning how to save even more lives
“To address this, the Trust has for some time been looking at ways to work differently.
“As part of our improvement plan, another initiative that we are currently exploring is the potential of joint working with the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue.
“Seattle Fire Department is one of the world leaders in providing pre-hospital emergency patient care and responds to approximately 28,000 Basic Life Support (BLS) and 25,000 Advanced Life Support (ALS) incidents every year.
“To enable both organisations to get a better understanding of how they operate, three representatives from GMFRS, accompanied by three NWAS staff from Greater Manchester, including a Unison representative, are travelling to Seattle in April.
“The cost to NWAS is approximately £3,000 which has not been funded from our operational budget and will not impact on frontline services.”
Assistant County Fire Officer for Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service, Geoff Harris, said: “The trip to Seattle is about us learning how to save even more lives.
“The emergency services there are leading the world by working together to improve survival rates following cardiac arrests.
“The survival rate in Seattle has reached an all-time high of 62 per cent and we are hoping to replicate that success.
“Last year we launched our Community Risk Intervention Teams who are supporting local residents in their homes by providing safety support and responding to falls and cardiac arrests. It is a fantastic opportunity for the emergency services to build on the existing working relationship they have.”
“The teams will provide a long-term benefit to the communities of Greater Manchester. We are already seeing the benefits of this and by learning from the best in the world we will build on this success.”
But news of the trip has drawn criticism from union bosses.
Neil Cosgrove, senior convenor of Unite at NWAS for Lancashire and Cumbria, said: “For them to go off on a jolly to America when we are failing in the way that we are to find out how the fire brigade is going to be doing our job is bang out of order.
“Demand has rocketed but resources haven’t increased. We have seen this coming for a long time now.
“Not that long ago they were talking about reducing vehicles on the road we campaigned and it was halted.
“As for the Seattle trip, we are shocked to find out it is going on. We had no idea this was going to happen.
“It’s coming out of the Trust’s expenses and that is the public purse. We don’t agree with it.”
Mr Cosgrove said the service was currently missing its response times in the Red1 and Red2 (75 per cent of calls responded to in eight minutes) and A19 (a patient carrying resource on the scene within 19 minutes 95 per cent of the time) categories.
The news comes following plans in Lancashire where NWAS and Lancashire fire and rescue service are also looking at ways of working together – and a trial is due to start where fire crews in Morecambe and Ormskirk will double up as paramedics.
Fire crews will be sent to certain medical emergencies if they can get there quicker than an ambulance.
If the project is deemed a success it could be rolled out across the county and made permanent.
A start date has not been confirmed.
Seattle trip ‘not the answer to our problems’
Official figures show the Trust’s performance for 2014/15 fell short of Government targets in the Red1, Red2 and A19 categories.
The performance was as follows...
• Red 1 (75 per cent within eight minutes): 69.16 per cent.
• Red 2 (75 per cent within eight minutes): 69.52 per cent.
• A19 (95 per cent within 19 minutes): 93.15 per cent.
North West Ambulance Service Director of Operations Derek Cartwright said: “The increase in demand was not only seen during winter but increased throughout the year.
“In total, NWAS received a 9.1 per cent increase in the number of high priority calls (eight minute response), and a 2.3 per cent increase in overall calls.”
News of the planned trip has sparked concern among other union leaders.
Steve Harman, secretary of the Fire Brigades Union in Lancashire, said: “I have never heard of this trip. What goes on in Manchester is nothing to do with us.
“The FBU has a policy that our members will not respond to medical emergencies on behalf of the ambulance service.
“That has been in place for many years. At the moment that policy is being re-evaluated to see if it is still viable for the present day.”
The trip will include a representative from Unison but today NWAS branch secretary Craig Wilde said: “The trip to Seattle has not been endorsed by the branch and as such as a branch we have had nothing to do with it.
“There is a Unison person going, they are going off their own bat as far as I am concerned they are not going to represent Unison.
“They are going to look at a system. A system that has been in place for 15 years, there’s massive education programmes behind this. You can’t compare the two.
“It’s a big choice spending that money on a trip to Seattle when we are not hitting our targets.
“The Seattle trip is not the answer to our problems.”