On Friday 19th September, I addressed the North Central London Sector Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee, at Haringey Civic Centre, telling them of my concerns about the current state of the London Ambulance Service (LAS) and the impact and the problems this was causing for patients in Enfield.
I informed those present on the survey of Enfield's LAS paramedics and technicians, which Cllr. Alev Cazimoglu and I undertook in April this year. Those we spoke to provided a damning verdict on the closure of Chase Farm’s Accident & Emergency Department and the strain this was placing on ambulances and local hospitals.
The survey uncovered:
- Ambulance crews routinely being forced to work 14 hour shifts, and sometimes even 15 or 16 hours;
- A surge in the use of private ambulances, some of which don’t have trained paramedics on board, including for the most critical “red calls”;
- Long delays and handover times for patients who arrive by ambulance at Barnet Hospital; and
- Patients being redirected from Chase Farm’s Urgent Care Centre to other hospitals for simple procedures like blood tests.
The Committee had requested a report on the situation with ambulance services in Enfield and the surrounding areas. This was presented by Steve Colhoun – the Ambulance Operations Manager for the LAS NHS Trust.
Steve said staff were “under immense pressure” and that the LAS are seeking to recruit more paramedics, from the UK, Europe and Australasia, to resolve some of the issues I had identified. However, in the meantime there will be “absolutely no choice but to use private ambulances”, said Mr Colhoun, and to use more of them to maintain service levels.
The issues raised in Friday’s meeting are of great concern to us all. Residents want to know that in an emergency an ambulance will be available, that it will reach them in the required time and that a paramedic will be on hand to provide care. At the moment, and despite the best efforts of ambulance personnel, this is not guaranteed. I fear that with winter on the way, this problem could become even more acute.