“We’ve dropped the national target. No we haven’t. Well, we might have done, but please don’t tell anybody.”

We had a small but important victory in October. We had expected that the Council’s ‘Health and Adult Social Care Scrutiny Committee’ would vote to endorse local NHS plans to scrap national ambulance response targets. (We knew that they had been asked to do this because the Chair of the Committee, Councillor Dakin, told this to a Health and Wellbeing Board on 10th October). In the event, no vote was taken – and councillors were told by the Chair that the report on ambulance targets was there ‘just for information’. Why the change? We had lobbied councillors hard, and the committee would have split down the middle. Probably the vote to attack the ambulance service would have scraped through – but the fight would have been deeply embarrassing to the NHS chiefs who are trying to cover their tracks.

So what’s going on? Our ambulance service is under attack. It’s failing already and it’s set to get worse. We know of catastrophic waits of an hour or more for an emergency ambulance, particularly in rural Shropshire. We know that things will get far, far worse if NHS bosses get away with closing the A&E in Shrewsbury, with ambulances tied up with the longer journeys to Telford. And the latest idiocy is that our NHS bosses have scrapped a vital national target for ambulance response times. Extraordinarily, even though they’ve scrapped the target, they’re so anxious about public opposition that they’re now trying to pretend they haven’t!

The most important national target for ambulance services is around ‘Red 1 calls’. These are 999 calls where people are in an immediately life threatening situation. This includes people who have stopped breathing, for example, or whose hearts are no longer beating. For 75% of calls, a rapid response vehicle or ambulance is meant to reach these people within 8 minutes. It’s an important target. Without very fast medical assistance, these people are very likely to die. With a skilled paramedic on the scene quickly, they have a chance of life. That’s why it’s a national target – around since the 1990s, and expected by the government to apply to rural areas as well as urban ones. No one expects that time to be reached 100% of the time – but the target says at least 75% of the time for people who will otherwise probably die. The target matters because it saves lives.

On 24th September, Shropshire’s ‘Clinical Commissioning Group’ voted to drop the target – to unilaterally withdraw Shropshire from this and the other national targets for ambulance response times. They’re half pretending now that they didn’t – but they scrapped the target in an open meeting in front of around 50 members of the public. That makes it tough to rewrite history! There is really no doubt at all that this is the decision they took. They agreed a paper that said performance targets couldn’t be achieved within current resources – so instead they’d go for the ‘best performance achievable within current resources’. CCG Board member Dr Povey said “I accept reluctantly that we have to accept lower targets”. Accountable Officer Caron Morton commented “It’s about having a target that we can achieve sustainably. We need to be realistic. The money comes from tax payers”. Chief Operating Officer Paul Tulley said the CCG had to “set for ourselves what we think is achievable in a rural county”.

They agreed – on behalf of every single person living, working or visiting Shropshire – that the national target time for emergency 999 calls will not apply in Shropshire. The only target they talked about instead was that they would reduce the number of people waiting more than an hour for an ambulance following a 999 call!

Yesterday, they’d apparently changed their minds. In what appeared to be a complete U-turn, Julie Davies (Director of Strategy and Service Redesign) told a local radio station that Shropshire CCG still supports the national targets – a complete reversal of their ‘abandon the targets’ position.

And today? Today, the position of our NHS bosses changed yet again. Today, Julie Davies attended a meeting of Shropshire Council’s Health and Adult Social Care Scrutiny Committee. She said, “Within current resources we can’t meet national targets locally. We still support the national targets” – and went on to present the paper already agreed by local NHS bosses, the document that says that Shropshire won’t try to meet the national targets. This seems to translate roughly as “Well, we’ve scrapped the ambulance targets in Shropshire, but we do support them really and truly and deep down”.

An astonishing admission was made by Julie Davies in the meeting. Julie acknowledged that Health bosses in Shropshire simply don’t collect the information on ambulance response and journey times and what those mean for patient outcomes. They’re scrapping a vital national target for ambulance response times, but they have no idea at all what will happen to people and what the harm could be. This isn’t planning – it’s a joke. Our local NHS bosses aren’t doing their jobs.

So where are we now?

NHS bosses are hugely on the defensive over ambulance response times. They know how angry people are already about long waits for ambulances. They know that their decision to scrap the national target for ambulance response times is unacceptable – which is why they’re trying to play with words and pretend that they still support the target they’ve just scrapped.

The outcome of today’s Council committee was without question a victory for us. The Council has NOT supported the plans for Shropshire to opt out of the national ambulance response targets.  There’s still a problem, though. Health bosses will try to push this through on their own. We have a local NHS leadership that has gone completely off the rails. They want to close our A&E, and much of the hospital with it. They’re closing Monkmoor Walk-In Centre.  They’re going to privatise 60% of the A&E at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital by Christmas. And now they’ve scrapped the key target for ambulances that says if you’ve got an immediately life threatening emergency, then 75% of people will get a paramedic or ambulance within 8 minutes. They’re too embarrassed to admit they’ve done it – but the target is still scrapped.

We’re in the shameful situation now where Shropshire is the only county in England to have opted out of the national target for emergency ambulance responses. This is shocking, and it has huge implications for our safety and our lives.

We need your help to reverse this:

  • Contact your MP immediately. You can do this via the website: https://www.writetothem.com/ . You can contact your councillor through the same site. One Shropshire MP took the trouble to respond to Shropshire Defend Our NHS this week, but the others didn’t bother. We’re disappointed by this. Pressure from constituents can really help to shift the MPs who prefer to duck tricky issues. You don’t have to write a long letter unless you want to. It’s good enough to tell your MP that you are opposed to the national target for ambulance response times being scrapped in Shropshire, and that you would like them to take this up.
  • Write to the papers too. NHS bosses are trying to get away with this one in secret. Letting people know what’s happening can be really, really powerful.
  • And after that – the campaign for our NHS continues. We need our A&Es at Telford and the Royal Shrewsbury. We need an ambulance service that can get us there alive. Join us.

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