Paramedics say they have been delayed on 999 calls to patients in life-threatening conditions because their sat navs have not recognised new ‘low traffic’ roadblocks.
Medics complained of delays getting to at least two people having life-threatening fits in Southwark.
One of the roadblocks singled out for causing delays to emergency calls is on Cook’s Road, SE17 according to reports written by paramedics for an NHS database logging patient safety incidents.
In one call on August 19, a paramedic crew was asked to respond to a category one emergency – for the most serious life-threatening injuries – for a fitting patient in nearby Olney Road.
A planter blocked the way on Cook’s Road, approximately 200 yards before the turn to arrive on-scene.
Crews turned around but then hit another barrier in Chapter Road, “where another planter box in the middle of the road prevented any vehicles from passing through.”
This forced paramedics to take a longer route, taking roughly seven minutes extra.
On September 23 another crew who were again called to a fitting patient in a life-threatening condition but were stopped by planter boxes on Cook’s Road.
“This significantly delayed our response to the CAT 1, and we were delayed by approx.5 mins,” they say.
Another incident on August 30 reports a delay of ten minutes to a category two call for an emergency in Otto Road because of sat-navs not recognising the roadblocks.
“With sat nav unaware of new closures it could not reroute us,” states the report.
“Our response time to a CAT 2 call was significantly hindered as a result.”
A further delay was reported by a different crew of up to eight minutes on a call because of the “brand new flowerpot road blockage” on the 12th September at roadblocks in SE17.
In another incident, paramedics complained of a delay on a 999 call because of council roadblocks in East Dulwich Road and Carlton Avenue.
Cllr Catherine Rose, the council’s transport boss, said Southwark was working with the emergency services to make sure they could get to patients.
“We’ve converted a number of permeable road closures to camera operated controls, at the request of the Emergency Services,” she said on Friday.
“Cooks Road is among these – we introduced a camera system there, back in October.
“The Ambulance Service raised Chapter Road in a meeting with us yesterday, so we are investigating options here currently as well.”
Internally the ambulance service says it has seen “multiple no/low harm incidents reported and an increase to on scene to hospital times,” as a side-effect of traffic calming measures across the capital.
The service’s chief operating officer Khadir Meer wrote to local authorities earlier this year to express his concern, and the ambulance service is consistently opposing physical barriers like planters on the grounds they could delay ambulances.
However, academics last week published a paper which appeared to show that LTNs do not cause delays to the emergency services.
Researchers analysed the response times of firefighters in Waltham Forest, which has had LTNs since 2015.
Academics found that while delays had not actually increased, a greater proportion of delays were being blamed on LTNs rather than less visible causes such as congested roads.
“These findings demonstrate that traffic calming measures can initially be identified as delaying some trips without any overall effect on response time performance,” states the paper.
Asked for comment, the London Ambulance Service repeated a statement it gave this paper in September.
The statement says they have the “potential” to delay life-saving calls, and that the service is lobbying to make sure that is considered.
“That is why we continue to work with Transport for London (TfL) and local authorities, including Southwark, to ensure emergency vehicle access is properly considered, and the impact of any changes monitored,” said an LAS spokesperson.
A number of factors affect response times such as congestion, weather, and ambulance staffing levels meaning it can be hard to tell whether Low Traffic Neighbourhoods are causing delays or if any delays are being caused by another factor.
Sat nav problems cause paramedics to go to wrong streets and hospitals
The reports were obtained by the News under Freedom of Information laws by asking for incident reports which mention words relating to sat-navs.
Shockingly they also reveal in February one patient appears to have died of a heart attack after paramedics were sent to the wrong road because their sat-nav misdirected them.
When they realised they were in the wrong place they called for back-up – which was then delayed because they too were sent to the wrong location by sat-nav.
“It is not suggested that the delay was wholly responsible for the outcome however the minutes wasted may have enabled the crew to be making better progress towards hospital as it was clear that the patient was very unwell,” the report states.
Sat-nav problems also caused one patient having a heart attack to be taken to St Thomas’ Hospital when both St George’s in Tooting and King’s College Hospital were much closer.
And in yet another case, a father of a patient coughing up blood was forced to run off “looking for ambulance and even jumped in car to look for ambulance,” after sat-nav errors.
A spokesperson for the Ambulance Service said ultimately the responsibility for sat-nav issues was with those who owned the software.
“We encourage our crews to report any road access or navigation issues so that we can share this information with the rest of our crews and follow it up with relevant London agencies and authorities,” said the spokesperson.
“However, responsibility for updating London-wide maps and satnav systems lies with the satellite navigation software owners.”
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