Firefighters’ union branch chair slams LAS after Upminster crash victims wait 69 minutes for ambulance

A senior member of the Fire Brigade Union (FBU) has said it is “only a matter of time before people start dying” because the London Ambulance Service (LAS) is taking too long to respond to call-outs.

Firefighter Dave Neicho, the FBU’s branch chair at Ilford Fire Station, told the Recorder how his colleagues were left battling to keep a seriously injured crash victim in Upminster conscious for 69 minutes after being told “no ambulances were available”.

The two-vehicle crash happened over the Jubilee weekend. Mr Neicho said by the time the LAS turned up the fire crew had been sent additional medical supplies on another truck as they were running out of oxygen cylinders.

“On any emergency call to an RTA, an ambulance is automatically ordered,” he explained. “After 20 to 30 minutes we requested an ETA from the ambulance service and were told no ambulances were available.

“This isn’t an isolated case. Ambulances are increasingly not available when we request them. Only recently, we had a gentleman with serious burns to his hands and arms who had to be taken to hospital in a friend’s car because no ambulance was available.

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“It’s only a matter of time before people start dying because there’s no means to take them to hospital.”

An LAS spokesman initially said the LAS had received information the Upminster crash victims were “fully conscious and breathing and not in a life-threatening condition”.

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“We remained in contact with those on scene to establish if there was any change in the patients’ condition,” she added.

Mr Neicho challenged this, saying the fire service never gave information about victims’ conditions over the radio. Indeed, the LAS did not know one of the patients had lost consciousness until an ambulance had arrived on the scene.

The LAS spokesman said the crash was originally categorised as a “C2” incident, meaning the target response time would have been 30 minutes – but that, had they known one victim was unconscious, the incident would have been upgraded to category A.

The LAS’s target response time for a category A incident is eight minutes.

The LAS said high demand for ambulances over the four-day weekend meant they were “unable to send an ambulance as quickly as we would have liked and we are very sorry for this delay”.

The spokesman declined to say how many ambulances were on call on the evening in question, but added the LAS had swelled its ranks by 100 staff to cope with the bank holiday period.

The LAS attended 71.5 per cent of category A incidents within eight minutes, and 80 per cent of category C2 incidents within 30 minutes, over the year 2011-12.

The service has axed 151 of its 4,600 staff over the last year – despite the fact the number of category A calls, which make up 40 per cent of all LAS call-outs, was up by nearly 30 per cent compared with the equivalent night last year.

Jonathan Fox, spokesman for ambulance workers’ union the Association of Professional Ambulance Personnel (APAP), echoed the LAS figures.

“I’ve been in the ambulance service for 34 years and I’ve never known there to be more pressure on frontline staff,” he said.

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