Until now we have taken it for granted. Dial 999 and, if you need an ambulance, one will turn up in 8 minutes or less. But since March this is no longer the case.
Our NHS and our ambulance service are under unprecedented pressure. GPs are more and more difficult to see and waiting times in just about every measure are getting worse.
The number of calls to our emergency services just keeps going up, stretching even further our already over worked ambulances and crews.
The target for the London Ambulance Service is to get to the most serious cases in less than 8 minutes 75% of the time. The London Ambulance trust has failed to achieve this target for six months- and it’s getting worse month by month. Last month, not a single borough hit the target.
Ann Radmore, the chief executive of LAS, has now ordered that ambulances only go to the most serious of cases. This potentially leaves vulnerable people with less serious injuries to make their own way to hospital.
I am not advocating sending Ambulances to every 999 call, but there are occasions where an ambulance team would be appropriate even if it isn’t a life threatening case.
The Chief Executive has my support, because she can do nothing else with her hands tied by Government cuts. She is in the impossible position of having to respond to an increase in calls, with a depleted and exhausted work force.
The stats speak for themselves, April to September this year LAS received 853,516 calls, an increase of 10.9% on 2013.
Last year the service lost 238 paramedics, a threefold increase since 2011, a totally unsustainable number which has forced LAS tried to recruit from Australia and New Zealand.
During the last spending round the Government forced London Ambulance Service to cut its budget by 19% before 2015- a £53m cut.
All the while spending on private ambulances in London was up by 1,000 per cent from £796,000 in 2011-12 to more than £8.8m 2013/14.
I asked the Mayor last week for his reaction to the crisis in London Ambulance service. I got the typical evasive Boris answer, although he did show some signs of concern by writing to Jeremy Hunt after my inquiry and questioning the issue.
The truth is that what is happening in the LAS is symptomatic of an NHS at breaking point. People can’t get GP appointments so they go to A&E. Waiting times at A&E are getting longer much like the ambulance response times. As we close nine A&E departments in London – ambulances will inevitably have further to travel, taking longer.
There is no respite. The population of London is set to reach 9m by 2020 and we are getting older. All of this needs a robust and funded ambulance service, fully manned with trained and experienced individuals.
The Mayor has no statutory responsibility to get involved in the NHS in London. Nor does he have a statutory responsibility to get involved in London’s’ Education provision – but that doesn’t stop him from championing the Government’s free school programme.
Why the double standard?
He does have responsibility for reducing health inequalities across London yet they are getting larger and his own strategy expired two years ago with no replacement. The Mayor seems focused on large projects to secure a legacy. Here is one for him – revolutionise London’s health landscape and implement Lord Darzi’s recommendations.
Why is he more willing to get involved in the education of largely middle class children but not the health of the poorest Londoners?
The Ambulance service is at breaking point. The NHS is at capacity. It’s time the Mayor stopped grand standing and started acting to secure the legacy of a Health system worthy of London.
Dr Onkar Sahota is the London Assembly Labour Group Health Spokesperson, Assembly Member for Ealing and Hillingdon and a practicing GP in West London. Follow him on Twitter @DrOnkarSahota