An NHS ambulance service is cutting back on its presence at Gatwick Airport and major sporting events, so it has more crews available to answer 999 calls, amid unprecedented pressure.
The Southeast Coast Ambulance Service (Secamb) has completed a lengthy scheme, after which Gatwick paid it to have an ambulance and paramedics on site.
It has also decided to limit the number of ambulances and paramedics on standby to deal with medical emergencies at Premier League club Brighton and Hove Albion’s Amex Stadium and the Goodwood Racecourse in West Sussex. It can be the same elsewhere.
Secamb’s moves have given rise to speculation that other ambulance services may reduce or shut down resources at mass spectator events and focus on “core” work. England’s 10 regional ambulance services are under pressure to speed up response times, which have grown across the UK, and tackle the growing number of patients who have to wait hours for a crew to arrive, despite in some cases suffering from a life-threatening emergency.
For many years, Gatwick paid Secamb to have an ambulance and paramedics at the airport that provided medical coverage at both of its terminals. The event ended in 2020, when the Covid pandemic saw the number of passengers plummet. As more people traveled again, Gatwick wanted to restart the service, but Secamb declined, citing the need to concentrate on providing rapid care to the people it serves across Kent, Surrey, Sussex and north-east Hampshire.
Secamb confirmed that it examined the level of coverage it provided at mass gatherings and stadium events to concentrate on improving its 999 call response times. It now has only one ambulance and one employee on duty at Amex Stadium. Sources at Secamb said organizations affected by its reconsideration will need to increase private medical coverage from other providers.
“Recognizing the challenges we face with other ambulance companies at the moment, we review the private medical coverage contracts we have to ensure we provide a fair and equitable service to all, no matter where people are in our region, “said a shop steward.
“We will keep the matter under review and would like to assure everyone involved in the places affected by these changes that they will continue to receive emergency medical care if necessary.”
The Unison union, which represents 400,000 NHS staff including ambulance staff, supported Secamb’s move. “Football pitches and racetracks should provide their own on-site medical coverage, freeing up hard-pressed crews to focus on 999 callers in desperate need of their help,” said Josh Cooper, Unison’s southeastern regional organizer.
“Before the pandemic, less extensive ambulance services were often covered by sporting events. But now the system is under such a heavy load that they can barely cover emergency calls, let alone anything else.”
A Secamb paramedic claimed that the loss of the Gatwick ambulance car would prove counterproductive as the service now has to send staff to any emergency. In an anonymous speech, the paramedic said: “Most of the jobs at the airport were falls, drunkenness and minor wounds so they could either be treated and sent on holiday or be asked to take a taxi to the local hospital without the use of an ambulance. Now the airport will call 999 and an ambulance will have to attend, which will increase the workload. “
He said Secamb had to send an ambulance to Gatwick on a recent Saturday night after each of four different calls, which turned out to be about the same medical situation. “If ‘Gatso’ ambulance care had still been there, the four jobs could have been handled by the person on duty.”
NHS England declined to comment.