Ambulance service efficiencies ‘could save NHS £500m’

28 Sep 18

Making ambulance services in England more efficient could save the NHS £500m by 2020-21, a major review has claimed.

An NHS Providers’ report, led by Lord Carter and published yesterday, found if more patients were treated at the scene by paramedics the acute health sector could save £300m in two year s time.

By eliminating differences in productivity and improvement between the 10 ambulance trusts could save £200m for the health services, it also found.

The rate of avoidable conveyances to hospital could be reduced if modern technology was embraced and people’s conditions were better assessed when dialling 999, Carter concluded.

“Too many patients are being unnecessarily taken to emergency departments by ambulances, putting further pressure on hospital services that are already on the back foot,” Carter said.

“An ambulance is not a taxi to emergency departments. Modern technology means that patients can often be treated at the scene. But an ageing ambulance fleet means that this is not always possible.” 

The review also revealed that in July 2018 80% of ambulance trusts did not meet their response time targets for category one - the most serious - call outs.

The time it took for services to respond to emergency calls “significantly” varied from 13 to 33 minutes.

The review suggested that ambulance staff should have digital access to patient information allowing them to make informed decisions on the scene.

The year-long review was done after the then secretary of state for health Jeremy Hunt asked Carter to look at what could be done to improve efficiency in hospitals in England.

The report found that even though trusts have invested in more efficient technologies such as e-Rostering systems, e-Prescribing systems and electronic catalogues for procurement, many “were not getting full meaningful use of it”.

Miriam Deakin, deputy director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, said: “Ambulance trusts are feeling the effects of rising demand for emergency services outpacing funding increases, difficulties in recruiting and retaining staff, and the need to adapt they way they meet the changing care needs of patients.

“Reducing unnecessary trips to hospitals in ambulances could save money, but it will require investment in other areas, for example in primary care, mental health and community services or social care.”

Martin Flaherty, managing director of the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives, said: “Whilst we accept there are variabilities in the numbers of patients conveyed to emergency departments in each region, this is often driven by local geography, patient demographics and the availability of clinically appropriate referral pathways.”

The ambulance trusts report followed a wider review carried out by Carter in 2016, which concluded the health service could save £5bn by 2020 if ‘unwarranted variation’ was removed from trust spend.

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