Ambulance crisis hits police hard: warning Met is picking up the pieces of the failing service

Meg Hillier, representative for Hackney South and Shoreditch, during a photocall for Labour MP's at

Meg Hillier, representative for Hackney South and Shoreditch, during a photocall for Labour MP's at The House of Commons, Westminster. - Credit: PA Archive/Press Association Ima

Police are “increasingly being used as an ambulance service of first resort”, MP Meg Hillier has warned, because ambulance crews are not able to cope with demand.

The MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch cited the example of a Hackney officer who was trained as a paramedic, who saved the life of a patient suffering a cardiac arrest by giving him CPR and taking him to hospital, after the ambulance could not reach the scene on time.

Her warning comes after the London Ambulance Service (LAS) was put into special measures by the Care Quality Commission last week, following repeatedly poor response times across the capital.

England’s chief inspector of hospitals, Professor Sir Mike Richards made the recommendation following a three-week inspection by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) in June.

City and Hackney response times have fallen below the 75 per cent target of calls being responded to within eight minutes since March.

Ms Hillier finds the situation “alarming”, and said that the “police are increasingly being used as an ambulance of last resort - or often as first resort”.

She continued: “You grow up thinking when you phone 999 you will get an ambulance.

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“It is a big worry when any trust goes into special measures, it shakes the roots of the NHS.

“With winter coming it’s critical there is a plan in place to cope, making sure it’s not our police officers who pick up the pieces, especially with the current climate, they shouldn’t be used instead of an ambulance.”

Acting Chief Inspector Ian Simpkins, who is based at Stoke Newington agrees that lapses in the ambulance service are placing his force under more pressure.

“We work closely with the LAS and try to coordinate our resources when our work overlaps, but it is clear that in some areas the LAS is very stretched,” he said.

“It is not uncommon for police to wait with injured people for an ambulance for long periods, with an obvious impact on our own ability to provide a service.”

Since the report five months ago, LAS has recruited an additional 167 frontline staff and is training a further 200.

Performance is improving and ambulance crews now reach 77 per cent of the most critically ill and injured patients within ten minutes.

Chief Executive, Dr Fionna Moore MBE, said: “While we are pleased that our caring and compassionate staff have been recognised in this report, we are sorry we have fallen short of some of the standards CQC and Londoners expect of us.

“We accept that we need to improve the way we measure and monitor some important standards and processes but we would like to reassure Londoners that we always prioritise our response to our most critically ill and injured patients and, in the event of a major incident, we are ready to respond and CQC recognise this.”

Ms Hillier criticised the Care Quality Commission for publishing the report five months after the inspection but said she was not surprised because they are over-stretched.

“It doesn’t help anyone to sit on it for five months,” she said.