Ambulance service bosses push for fairer funding saying it's facing a 'challenging position'

North East Ambulance Service has the best category 1 response times in the country.
North East Ambulance Service has the best category 1 response times in the country. -Credit:Newcastle Chronicle

North East Ambulance Service bosses have called for a "sustainable financial plan" from NHS bosses and complained at funding that sees it "at the bottom of the pack".

A lack of capital funding was a recurrent complaint at a recent NEAS board meeting, and although executives said targets for the financial year just ended had been achieved - they said there was real risk that this would not be repeated.

The discussion highlighted how funding the ambulance service better - developing "a coherent Medium Term Resource Plan" - was one of the 18 recommendations made in Dame Marianne Griffith's review of NEAS in light of failings in relation to informing coroners about incident investigations. Highlighting how this recommendation was outside of the service's direct control, executives highlighted that more financial support had not yet been forthcoming.

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Board chair Peter Strachan said: "One of things Dame Marianne pointed to was a sustainable financial plan but that's unfortunately not something we have had to date, despite our best efforts."

Chief executive Helen Ray also said: "The independent oversight group heard evidence and assurance in relation to recommendations 17 and 18 which were around national commissioning arrangements and the medium term financial plan. - that remains a challenging position and we have been very honest in relation to that."

In Mrs Ray's report to the board meeting, she added that while in general the service was entering the new year in a "more positve frame", financial challenges remained "limiting factors". She said: "I also recognise some of the limiting factors to our progress, including access to capital funding, a key concern that I am pushing out in national conversations alongside my Chief Executive colleagues from other ambulance trusts."

Though this year NEAS has broken even financially, it has made signifcant cost-cutting measures - and the board heard how there will be a "sustainability challenge" next year and a need to find more cost-improvement. The board heard how for next year, already identified "recurrent" savings only made up 34% of what will need to be found for the coming financial year.

Bosses also criticised the fact the NHS England's final planning guidance for the new financial year only arrived on Good Friday - three months after it had been expected. Mr Strachan said this was "not the way to run a £200bn organisation" and had meant NEAS's finance team had been "really up against it".

This comes as the wider NHS North East and North Cumbria runs with a financial deficit of £32m - for the year to date, as of January. Last year, Samantha Allen, chief executive of the North East and North Cumbria NHS Integrated Care Board highlighted how funding cuts of £160m contributed to "vicious circle of ill health" across the region.

The Department for Health and Social Care and NHS England have been contacted for comment.