Chief Constable pledges to monitor number of times police officers have to ferry patients to A&E

Lincolnshire Police Chief Constable Neil Rhodes.
Lincolnshire Police Chief Constable Neil Rhodes.

The Chief Constable for Lincolnshire has gone into detail about the reason for his controversial Twitter comment where he said police officers were having to ferry patients to A&E when ambulances were unavailable.

In his Tweet in the early hours of Sunday morning the county’s top police officer Neil Rhodes called for ambulance services in the county to be better resourced and his his on line blog has explained that police officers are becoming too regularly “the service of last resort”, taking casualties to hospital in incidents they have been called to.

Mr Rhodes relesased his explanation via his blog yesterday evening (Monday). In it he said: “About 24 hours ago, reading through the overnight incidents, I saw that officers from Lincoln and Boston had been required to take casualties to Accident & Emergency departments because ambulances weren’t available within a practical timeframe.

“I tweeted at that time, ‘Officers from both Lincoln and Boston ended up working as ambulances last night. EMAS needs to be properly resourced.’ I hadn’t realised at that time just how much interest my tweet would attract. A day later it’s been retweeted 117 times and liked 129 times, which is quite an unusual amount of attention for me.”

He went on: “I had clearly hit a raw nerve with many members of the public, judging from some of the responses that I got. Equally, one or two members of the ambulance service responded and felt that I was being personally critical of ambulance crews. I need to say - far from it – I am a real supporter of EMAS.

“On that evening, Saturday evening, I had been at a function in Lincoln where a person had been taken ill and collapsed. Within around 30 minutes an ambulance arrived and the care and compassion displayed by that ambulance crew was absolutely exemplary. I have also, in the past, been in the back of Lincoln A&E and seen four or five ambulance crews queueing, sometimes for a matter of hours, to hand over their patients and get back on the streets. I have some understanding of the demands they face.

“However, it just can’t be right that police officers are regularly being needed to take people from the scenes of accidents or road traffic collisions to hospital because the Ambulance Service just does not have the resources available to cope. One of the incidents I discussed on Saturday was where a person had been assaulted in the early hours and suffered significant head injuries. I both support and applaud the decision of the officers in that matter to take the man to Accident and Emergency, rather than wait a considerable period of time for an ambulance to attend.

“I also ask myself what would happen if someone died in a police car whilst being taken to hospital? The public deserve a better service and my officers cannot be asked to fill the gap that exists at times. We are, on many occasions, the service of last resort and when there is no-one else available to help, I always want it to be that a police officer is prepared to step into the breach. But, when what should be an exceptional occurrence is becoming a regular occurrence then it’s up to me to say and do something about it.”

He has since discussed the issue with Richard Henderson, the Chief Executive of the East Midlands Ambulance Service.

He said: “A picture readily emerges of a service that is under-resourced, in comparison with the demands placed upon it across the East Midlands, a problem that is exacerbated by the fact that ambulance crews can spend an inordinate amount of time queueing in busy hospitals waiting to hand over their patients.”

Over the next few weeks Mr Rhodes intends to monitor when police officers feel they have to take people to hospital because of issues with ambulance cover, and he will be sharing that information with East Midlands Ambulance Service.

Mr Rhodes re-iterated: “I have an enormous amount of time for the crews that operate alongside police officers on the roads of Lincolnshire, and would much prefer that my comments are seen as supportive rather than critical.”

EMAS says they have asked for details regarding the incidents referred to and confirmed Richard Henderson, EMAS Chief Executive had spoken to Mr Rhodes yesterday to discuss the matter.

In a statement on their website EMAS explained that, as with all UK ambulance services, EMAS always tries to provide prompt back-up when police colleagues request support, and meets with Lincolnshire Police on a monthly basis o review activity and services provided.

EMAS stated: “Both organisations are committed to providing the best possible service to the public and we will continue to work in partnership with police colleagues to reduce the number of times they feel it appropriate to provide transport.

“The Association of Ambulance Service Chief Executives has been working closely with the National Police Chief’s Council (and its predecessor organisation), to eliminate occasions where the police convey patients to hospital.”

The county ambulance service revealed on an average day in Lincolnshire it receives over 500 emergency and urgent 999 calls and has 45 ambulances and 14 fast response cars with skilled clinicians on board to respond. Of those 500 calls, just over half result in a patient needing to go to hospital.

The statement said: “In its latest report about EMAS (published May 2016), the Care Quality Commission said inspectors found that we are open and honest about the challenges we are facing and what we are doing to address them. Ambulance availability can be impacted by the number of

ambulance crews kept waiting at hospital.

“We have been funded £152.5 million to provide our 999 service across the six counties in the East Midlands during 2016/17. A key part of this year’s contract is the agreement to carry out an independent strategic demand, capacity and price review to look at the level of staff and vehicles needed, along with finance, to respond to demand on our services. We and our commissioners have committed to implement the outcomes of the review.”

EMAS has also stated that it has not been given any extra funding or resources to cope with the longer trips to AandE while the AndE department at Grantham Hospital is closed for three months at nights due to staffing pressures.

According to figures released by EMAS, between April 1 and August 31 2016, Lincolnshire Police asked EMAS for assistance on 1,583 occasions (during the same time period, EMAS asked Lincolnshire Police for support or attendance on scene 217 times).

From the 1,583 incidents there are 603 reports of the patient needing hospital assessment or treatment (38.09 per cent). All others calls were dealt with appropriately over the telephone and face-to-face responses.

EMAS states: “The 999 calls received from police colleagues are dealt with in the same way as all other 999 calls in that they are all categorised dependent on the clinical need of the patient.

“Police colleagues have access to our Clinical Assessment Team where they can receive additional triage support from paramedics and nurses working in our control centre. Our average response time for the 1,583 incidents was 20 minutes, and we remained on scene for an average of 36 minutes.

“During Saturday and Sunday September 24 and 25, 2016, EMAS ambulance crews experienced delays at hospitals in Lincoln, Boston, Scunthorpe and Grimsby meaning we lost over 80 hours of time.”