Boris Johnson has warned Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt the London Ambulance Service is facing a winter crisis due to a soaring number of 999 calls and dire staff shortages. The text of the letter, released to the Standard by the Mayor’s office, is below. It is believed to have been sent at the end of last month.
It has been brought to my attention that since April 2014 the London Ambulance Service (LAS) has consistently failed to meet the national target of attending 75 per cent of Category A calls within eight minutes. With around 100,000 extra emergency calls last year, compared to the year before, the London Ambulance Service is under increasing pressure. This is obviously of significant concern to me, both because of the direct impact on Londoners’ health and also because of the knock on effect on other emergency services, especially the Metropolitan Police Service. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner has already raised with me the risk to his staff and the public from this situation.
I recognise that your Department has granted short term investment for winter and that the NHS in London is investing heavily in the London Ambulance Service too. However, I am aware of the challenges the LAS is facing including increased demand and staff shortages and retention issues of existing staff. This factor is heightened by the significant period of time it takes to train new Ambulance staff.
Although I have no direct responsibility over the LAS I have a duty to support London on issues which directly affect the city. I know that we will both agree the need to resolve this speedily, particularly ahead of the winter pressures and further possible future industrial action, and I would welcome all the support you could give to make it so. Could I ask that our officials work together with NHS England to see how best we can proceed?
The Mayor wants extra help for the under-pressure service as new figures reveal it is failing to hit emergency response times and has more than 1,000 vacancies, with one in seven staff leaving every year. [Note: the vacancy figure appears in LAS board papers but has been described by the LAS press office as an error. The correct figure is unknown.]
Deputy mayor Victoria Borwick, who saw the pressure the service is under when she spent last Friday night accompanying a paramedic, told the Standard: “Boris has written to Jeremy Hunt and there is going to be a meeting between everyone to see if there is anything practical that can be done.
“He is concerned that the London Ambulance Service hasn’t hit its national targets with winter approaching. He doesn’t fund them or run them, but it’s only right as Mayor that he is there to make sure there is enough funding going into the LAS.”
A report to Tuesday’s LAS board meeting says the trust faces “significant challenges” hitting the NHS eight-minute response time. Last month just 64 per cent of ambulances sent to the serious emergencies arrived in time, below the 75 per cent target. The service receives more than one million calls a year.
A recruitment drive in Australia and New Zealand saw 177 “exceptionally” qualified paramedics agree to come to London but the service is 403 paramedics short of its normal allocation, with 26 leaving last month.
Lady Borwick today backed a “Party people – be careful out there” campaign calling on Londoners to drink safely in the run-up to Christmas to ease the “enormous pressure” on the ambulance service. Last December it responded to more than 6,000 alcohol-related incidents.
She accompanied paramedic Scott Mcilwaine to a series of calls and was shocked to see people abandoned by their friends and left so drunk they were unable to find their way home.
In one case, a 32-year-old woman had been left asleep in the corner of a pub near Gray’s Inn Road. “She was mortified when we work her up,” Lady Borwick said. “She had no way of getting home – she literally couldn’t stand.”
In another they found a man “absolutely stone cold” on the street near Centrepoint with a kebab in his hand. A third case involved a 55-year-old mother from Weybridge who had fallen in Covent Garden and hit her head. Lady Borwick called the woman’s son to ask him to collect her from A&E at St Thomas’s hospital.
Lady Borwick said: “I think the most depressing thing I found was that people who went drinking with their mates were then abandoned and had no way of getting themselves home.
“If you want to make sure that ambulances are kept for those people who are seriously ill, don’t waste their time by drinking too much and ending up slumped in the street or in corner of a pub.
“People have got to be responsible for their own actions. If you go out and get yourself plastered, you stop an ambulance going to someone else.”
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “A meeting is being arranged between NHS leaders and the Mayor’s office to discuss the action London Ambulance Service is taking to get back on track ahead of winter – backed by an extra £17million provided by the Department.”