New national ambulance response standards

South East Coast Ambulance Service is to introduce a new set of ambulance response standards aimed at delivering the quickest response possible for the most critically ill or injured patients.

The new nationally-determined standards, see current Red 1, Red 2 and Green category calls replaced with four new categories. The new system aims to better enable ambulance services to get the right resource to patients, the first time, in a timeframe appropriate for their clinical need.

The changes, known as the Ambulance Response Programme (ARP), were announced by NHS England in July and follow the largest ambulance clinical trials in the world.

The clinical evidence, gathered from an 18-month trial of ARP, showed that out of 14 million 999 calls managed within the pilot, there were no patient safety issues or concerns.

The change is strongly endorsed by a number of expert organisations including the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, the Stroke Association and the College of Paramedics.

Changing the performance standards will improve efficiencies and free up ambulance crews to respond to emergencies.

Vehicles are often dispatched to respond to patients in less than eight minutes but most patients do not need this level of response.

The new standards will enable the trust to send the most appropriate response to each patient, first time, while continuing to prioritise those in the greatest need.

The availability of a transporting resource will also be improved, reducing the length of time single responders wait for back up.

Category 1 is for calls to people with immediately life-threatening and time-critical injuries and illnesses, category 2 is for emergency calls, category 3 is for urgent calls, and category 4 is for less urgent calls.

Joe Garcia, South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust executive director of operations, said: “ARP and the new ambulance response standards will help us to better meet the clinical needs of our patients rather than simply a time-driven target. We will also be better placed to send the right response, the first time.

“We are working extremely hard as a trust, in the face of increasing year-on-year demand, to improve the efficiency and timeliness of our response to patients. While we cannot expect response times to improve overnight, as we continue to develop our operational staff skill-mix and ratio of ambulances to cars, our response to all categories of patient should improve.”