If you have a target that you fail to achieve year after year, there is a simple answer. Just tear up the rules and start again.
It’s what is sometimes called ‘moving the goalposts’ – and there really is no better description.
Ambulances have target response times, not just where you live but almost everywhere. In Wales, UK, the target is to reach 65% of emergency incidents in eight minutes. But, after seven consecutive months of improving to 61.7% – so target was still missed – in August the success rate fell to 58.8%. The September figure is not yet available.
So, now a new system for dealing with emergency 999 calls for ambulances in Wales has come into force and response time targets will be scrapped for all but life-threatening cases during a one-year trial.
Calls will now be graded and it is estimated only 10% of the 420,000 ambulance emergencies a year will be coded “red” for the most critical.
Welsh Ambulance Service chief executive Tracy Myhill tried to put some spin on the slackening of the targets by saying that the new system was based on clinical evidence and put the sickest patients first.
Under the new system, emergency telephone operators will assess how serious each incident is and despatch ambulances in the order of severity and according to predetermined classifications which are colour-coded like traffic lights.
Life-threatening emergencies are the top priority, coloured red – and it is only this group, the estimated 10%, to which the eight minute response time target still applies.
In the United States there are no official Federal or State standards for response times but they often do appear in contracts between communities and Emergency Medical Service providers.
This has led to considerable variations between standards in one community and another. New York City, for example, has a 10-minute response requirement on emergency calls, while other places have response time standards of up to 15 minutes.
It seems to be generally accepted within the emergency services field that an ‘ideal’ response time would be within eight minutes for 90% of calls but this objective is rarely achieved and current thinking questions whether or not that standard has ever been valid’.
As call volumes increase and resources and funding fails to keep pace with the growing demand, even large ambulance services find that they have difficulty in meeting the standards. So Wales is definitely not alone.
Whether it is right to change the rules and take 90% of emergency calls outside any response time target, however, is open to question.
I suppose that we will just have to wait and see how the new system works – or doesn’t.