Link-Up With NHS Direct Speeding Up Ambulances

The transfer of Wales’ health advice and information service into the Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust heralds a new approach to healthcare in this country. NHS Direct Wales has been merged with the ambulance trust as part of a move to ensure that patients are referred to the most appropriate services.

Sara Jones, director of NHS Direct Wales, will oversee its move into the ambulance service and has been appointed the director of unscheduled care/ nurse director for the Welsh Ambulance Trust. She must now find an appropriate response to the many 999 calls from patients that are not life-threatening emergencies.

Ms Jones, 45, a former midwife, said: “Only 10% of people who ring 999 are having life-threatening emergencies. My job is to find them the right response. It is unsafe to send ambulances at speed to people who don’t need them. We need systems in place to ensure we provide the right care and the right level of care and for many people that means in their homes or in the local community.”

The success of the GP triage system, which was put in place in three ambulance control rooms during March, has shown that patients are willing to be re-directed to other sources of care when an ambulance is not appropriate.

That scheme used GPs – sourced by NHS Direct Wales – to assess emergency calls and decide whether they required an ambulance or whether another, more appropriate, form of care was called for.

It helped to free up emergency ambulances and contributed to the Welsh ambulance service hitting its 60% target for reaching emergency calls within eight minutes for the first time in two years.

Ms Jones said, “The success of that scheme shows how well we can work together to make change happen. It was the first time we had worked together and it is a credit to the team that they were able to harness the expertise of both services to make the project a success.”

NHS Direct Wales, the 24-hour health advice and information service for Wales, was set up in June 2000 and has been housed by Swansea NHS Trust for the last six years. In that time more than 2.7m people have contacted the service for health advice and information.

The transfer of NHS Direct Wales into the Welsh ambulance service is the start of a programme of awareness-raising that aims to signpost the public towards the right service for their health care needs.

It will help to achieve the goals set out in the Welsh Assembly Government’s Delivering Emergency Care Services policy, which aims to ensure that patients are treated by the right professionals in an emergency.

Ms Jones added: “The transfer marks a landmark in the evolution of NHS Direct Wales as a service – being at the forefront of the unscheduled care agenda will create new career opportunities for paramedics and nurses. By working much more closely together and by sharing ideas and technology we can redesign the unscheduled and emergency care service to make sure the right care is delivered in the right place and at the right time.”