Approved mental health professionals secure deal to cut ambulance delays

New protocol for ambulance response to Mental Health Act assessments has helped "improve" response times, the London ambulance service said

Approved mental health professionals in London hope to get ambulance back-up within 30 minutes of most Mental Health Act assessments after agreeing a new call-out protocol with the London ambulance service.

Under the revised protocol, AMHPs book ambulances once they have completed a community assessment, rather than booking ambulance support in advance. For most community assessments an ambulance response is now expected “within 30 minutes”, AMHP network leads said.

The advanced booking system was scrapped after AMHPs found their ambulance bookings often “fell down the priority list” behind calls for immediate support. The result was that some social workers faced long waits for ambulance support while detaining potentially aggressive patients.

Ambulances that had been booked in advance were forced to wait for hours outside patients’ houses while assessments were completed, sometimes to be told ambulance support was not needed, the London ambulance service said.

Steve Chamberlain, chair of the AMHP Network linked to the college of social work and an AMHP in West London, said he was glad the ambulance service had prioritised mental health.

“Advanced booking was always a problem. Now the ambulance service has said they will come in 8 minutes if there is a major situation, which is very unusual. In the majority of community assessments we’ve asked for a response within 30 minutes,” he said. 

“There is never a guarantee as it depends on other demands on the service but that is the aim.”

Chamberlain said that the AMHP network will be monitoring the impact of the new system in coming months.

“In the weeks since the new system has been implemented there have been some significant hiccups. But across London, 33 boroughs, that was inevitable. The early signs are that in a lot of cases response has improved,” he said.

Kuda Dimbi, clinical advisor for mental health at the London ambulance service, said:

“The new protocol has been well received by our colleagues in mental health trusts and helped us improve our response times. It means ambulances are only dispatched when they are needed, freeing up our staff to attend to other emergency calls.”

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