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North East Police Officers Taken Off the Streets to Deal with Medical Emergencies – Article by the Evening Chronicle

26th January 2015

Police vehicles have been used to ferry hundreds of North patients to hospital in just three months as health bosses battle delays in response times.

Forces in Northumberland, Durham and Cleveland have all been called on to plug the shortfall.

In the Northumbria Police force area alone, officers took 227 patients for treatment.

Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Vera Baird, who released the figures, branded it “unacceptable” use of a force being spread thin by swingeing government cuts.

But health chiefs hit back, insisting they have been dealing with “unprecedented pressure” across the NHS.

Examples in the three month period in the Northumbria force area- recorded between October and December last year include:

Nov 10, 2014 – Sunderland. An elderly man collapsed with a head injury and waited more than an hour for an ambulance before police took him to hospital.

Dec 28, 2014 – South Tyneside. A 76-year-old woman was weak, reported no vision, slurred speech and started to lose consciousness. The ambulance service contacted police at the scene and told them to give the woman oxygen. However, after more than 40 minutes later no ambulance had arrived so officers took the woman to hospital.

Dec 30, 2014 – Gateshead. Police were called at 2.10am to help a woman who had suffered a head injury following an assault. The ambulance service advised the woman to get a taxi to hospital- yet due to her dizziness, sickness and loss of vision, police advised ambulance bosses that a taxi was not appropriate. No ambulance arrived so police had to take the stricken woman to hospital at 3.36am.

One recorded incident also showed a three-and-half-hour delay in an ambulance arriving to take a car accident victim to hospital.

Mrs Baird said: “We’re spending a significant amount of officer time responding to calls and dealing with patients and there is a very real strategic risk to this police force.

“We’ve had £48m worth of cuts in the last four years with an additional almost £12m this year. We are committed to keeping officers on the beat and they are spread thin.

“This is taking resources away from other areas and it is not acceptable. We’ve had meetings and tried to get some change but nothing so far.

“Officers have waited a lot of times, sometimes for several hours, and we’re managing to cope but this is tying up officers time so they cannot respond to other incidents. The scale is very significant and it is a serious issue.”

Mrs Baird’s counterparts at Durham and Cleveland – Ron Hogg and Barry Coppinger – also spoke of their frustrations with Mr Coppinger and Cleveland chief constable Jacqui Cheer raising the issue with new North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) chief executive Yvonne Ormston.

In September the Sunday Sun reported how patients injured in a road smash in Thornaby, Stockton, had to be taken to hospital in a bus, which lead to criticism from North politicians although was defended at the time by health chiefs because of the “minor injuries” sustained.

And in 2013, it emerged Northumbria Police were dealing with incidents involving delayed ambulances up to 100 times a week.

Barry Coppinger said: “There have been occasions when police officers have taken people to hospital and I’ve had ongoing concerns for some time on this issue. Both the chief constable and I are in active and positive discussions with the new chief executive of NEAS, in a joint determination to move things forward and develop further understanding between the police and ambulance service on a local and national level.”

Durham PCC Ron Hogg added: “Clearly this is not a good use of police officer time and we are working with the ambulance service, and local police forces, to seek to resolve this situation which fundamentally stems from cuts within A&E.”

Chief executive of North East Ambulance Service, Yvonne Ormston, defended the numbers, saying an increase in life-threatening incidents contributed to the delays in reaching people with less serious complaints.

“Over recent weeks, there has been unprecedented pressure on the whole of the NHS. In December the high level of demand led to us increasing our operational status to Severe Pressure to reflect this.

“Demand for responses to life-threatening incidents between April and December in 2014 has been nearly ten percent higher than the same period in 2013. This increase in overall demand for our service has masked the progress that we are making.”

She also said the proportion of emergency incidents originating from the police for the ambulance trust is the highest in the country.

Article by The Evening Chronicle