AN AMBULANCE base may be permanently established again in Witney to tackle a response times crisis.
South Central Ambulance Service (SCAS) has said it is facing increasing pressure from a reduced workforce and rising numbers of ‘red calls’ being made.
Red calls are those that are time-sensitive because a patient could be in a life-threatening condition.
Ambulance services nationwide are given the target of getting first-responders, including those trained to use defibrillators, to 75 per cent of such incidents in eight minutes.
Ambulance response times have been a historically contentious issue in West Oxfordshire and in 2008 the district council passed a motion of no confidence in SCAS.
A Freedom of Information request in 2009 found that over three years the service had managed to make sure an ambulance staffed with paramedics had reached incidents in eight minutes more than 75 per cent of the time in just one month. And for the last two years, ambulances operating in West Oxfordshire have failed to reach the 75 per cent standard.
In particular, 2012/2013 saw the service achieve 66.45 per cent and last year that fell to 52.38 per cent.
Now Steve West, SCAS director of operations in Oxfordshire, said a trial scheme had been established in Witney to try to halt the decline.
He told the Oxfordshire joint health overview and scrutiny committee: “We are looking at options to compensate for a reduced workforce and we are using private ambulance support. The rise in demand has required us to do this.
“Particularly in Oxfordshire we are using St John Ambulance and they are a very valued partner.”
Mr West said a private firm had within the last three weeks been hired to operate out of Witney. And if that provision improves services, he told the Witney Gazette, a permanent base may be established.
Official figures show countywide red calls have risen – from 18,917 in 2012/13 to 20,588 in 2013/14 – resulting in more pressure on the service as a whole, while calls in West Oxfordshire have dropped 15 per cent – from 3,141 to 2,678 in the same period.
But an increase of referrals from the NHS 111 medical advice service and a shortage of full-time paramedics has meant that West Oxfordshire’s response time figures have suffered.
This was partly because it is difficult to justify stationing ambulances for long periods in rural spots, compared to areas such as Oxford, said Mr West.
Prime Minister and Witney MP David Cameron, above, said he would write to SCAS to express his concerns about West Oxfordshire’s figures.
He said: “It is not acceptable that any area, rural or otherwise, suffers a disadvantage, and poor service must be rectified as a matter of urgency.”
It has been more than a decade since ambulance crews in Witney stopped using the ambulance station which was based in Welch Way.
When asked about the new pilot scheme, an SCAS spokeswoman confirmed the pilot scheme had started in “recent weeks”.
But when asked how much was budgeted, how many staff were operating from the base and which private operator had been hired, the service failed to provide specific answers.
West Oxfordshire District Council has tried to help tackle the response times problem by installing 24 public defibrillators across the district in March. It also pledged to pay for a further 30 in areas that missed out.
Its cabinet member for health Mark Booty said: “If you have a health problem and you are in the country you have the same right to healthcare as anyone in the city.”