- Routine journeys to non-essential clinics to be suspended
- Fewer patients with life-threatening conditions on vehicles to maintain social distancing
- Increased hospital discharges to free inpatient and critical care capacity for an anticipated increase of COVID-19 patients
Almost all patient transport services to hospital appointments and clinics will be redeployed by the North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) from Tuesday 24 March until further notice.
The decision will allow NEAS to support hospitals to discharge more patients well enough to return home and free-up the maximum possible inpatient and critical care capacity in the region. This preparation is needed now for the anticipated numbers of COVID-19 patients who will need respiratory support in the coming weeks.
A limited transport service will continue for patients needing dialysis; chemotherapy, radiotherapy and other cancer treatment; and when required for non-urgent assessment as directed by a clinician.
Barry Dews, Strategic Head of Operations at NEAS, said: “This is not a decision taken lightly and we know some patients will be worried about whether they should still attend their hospital appointment.
“We regularly carry out around 2,800 patient journeys a day and we have already seen this drop to 1,500 patient journeys a day as hospitals start cancelling appointments and some patients are either self-isolating or following government advice to socially distance themselves.
“We are working very closely with hospitals and our NHS commissioners to ensure that all patients are notified of this change and given advice on what they should do next.”
He said that today’s announcement, which comes into effect from 08.00h tomorrow, increases the availability of NEAS staff to respond to emergency calls. This move also allows the ambulance service to play its part in the wider population measures to socially distance our crews from others to slow down the spread of the virus.
Patients who have any concerns their transport should ring NEAS patient transport 0300 111 0247.
“We also anticipate that as the virus spreads, some of our own staff will become infected and need to self-isolate at home,” said Mr Dews. “By removing the routine burdens now, we are better placed to support critically-ill patients as well as our own workforce when they start to become affected in this national emergency.”
For those limited patients who continue to use NEAS transport services, social distancing will be implemented. Patients will be required to sit at the back of the vehicle as far away from the crew as possible.
For those patients showing symptoms of COVID-19, vehicles will only transport one patient at a time. Crews in direct contact will also be wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), although the designated driver will not be required to wear PPE whilst driving.