Wells-next-the-Sea has the worst ambulance delays in Britain

Patients suffering cardiac arrests and other life-threatening emergencies face waits of 20 MINUTES for an ambulance in some rural parts of Britain

  • The town on the north coast of Norfolk has the slowest emergency response
  • It is 29 miles (47km) from the nearest major hospital in King’s Lynn
  • The local MP has accused the ambulance service of ‘consistently failing’ 

Patients with life-threatening emergencies in rural parts of Britain face waits of 20 minutes for an ambulance, figures have revealed.

Wells-next-the-Sea in Norfolk, home to around 2,000 people, has an average wait of 21 minutes and four seconds for an emergency ambulance.

Local MP Norman Lamb, a former Lib Dem leadership candidate, has accused the local ambulance trust of ‘consistently failing’.

The wait in Wells-next-the-Sea is almost twice as long as the national average for rural areas, which can usually expect an ambulance in 11 minutes 13 seconds.

In urban areas the response time is shorter – an average of seven minutes 14 seconds. 

Wells-next-the-Sea, on the north coast of Norfolk, has the UK’s longest ambulance wait for emergency patients, with the highest priority patients waiting more than 21 minutes on average between January and October last year

East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust (pictured, an ambulance in Cambridge) has been accused of providing an ‘unacceptable’ service by the North Norfolk MP, Norman Lamb

Ambulance response figures analysed by the BBC have revealed the NR23 postcode in North Norfolk has the slowest call-out time.

The town is 29 miles (47km) away from the nearest major hospital, in King’s Lynn, and 10 miles (16km) from an ambulance station.

East of England Ambulance Service, which serves the area, has come under fire in recent months as it struggles to cope with rising demand in a large rural region.

The MP for the area, Liberal Democrat Norman Lamb, told the BBC: ‘The question is why the East of England Ambulance Service consistently fails to provide an effective service. The current situation is not acceptable.’

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The EEAST in August considered getting first responder volunteers or military personnel to drive ambulances to deal with a paramedic shortage.

In September the trust suggested patients could be made to share ambulances if the first one is low priority and another could be picked up en route to the hospital.

And figures for 2017-18 revealed it had the longest single wait of any NHS ambulance trust in England, keeping one patient waiting 24 hours and 52 minutes.


The East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust (EEAST) said in September it would allow paramedics to put more than one patient in the same ambulance if necessary. 

The trust said there are ‘rare situations’ in which it would be acceptable.

Its rule could be used in case a crew passes someone in a life-threatening emergency while they are transporting a less urgent case.

The trust said: ‘It is absolutely right that the crew are contacted to assess if it is clinically safe for the patient on board, if the crew were to stop at the incident and give immediate lifesaving care before the arrival of the next closest ambulance or car.’ 

At the time the move was called ‘crazy’ and ‘desperate’.

One anonymous paramedic at the trust told The Guardian they were ‘horrified’.

They said: ‘It’s desperate. I’ve never heard anything like this.’  

On average, rural areas in England have to wait 11 minutes for a response if they have a medical emergency such as a heart attack or difficulty breathing. 

The NHS figures used by the BBC cover January to October last year and are based on response times to the highest priority health emergencies.

These include heart attacks, seizures, giving birth, major blood loss, stab injuries and people unable to breathe.

Only around one in every 20 999 calls are this serious and they are prioritised because of the risk of the patient dying. 

One former community first responder for the area told the BBC how he quite because the job became too stressful.

Kevin Short said he had been left waiting with seriously ill patients for up to 50 minutes ‘on numerous occasions’.

‘I’m very proud to have worked for the ambulance service for those three years,’ he said. ‘But from a personal level I have been left with deep scars.’ 

The chair of the town council said a parking space has been painted at the new police station but there has ‘never’ been an ambulance on it.

EEAST’s chief executive, Dorothy Hosein, said: ‘In rural areas such as Wells Next the Sea… it is challenging to maintain the same level of response we provide in more densely populated areas.

‘We work hard to get to our sickest patients as quickly as we can.’


 * Based on fewer than 50 callouts.

Source: BBC 

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