Patients’ reassurance is as vital as response times, Lincoln study argues

A University of Lincoln report into the way that the East Midlands Ambulance service is assessed argues that patients’ and families’ reassurance is just as important as response times.

The service, which missed response time targets for the fifth year in a row during 2014/15, was assessed with partners from the University of Sheffield on how much reassurance was offered.

The report, which is now available to view online, featured interviews with a number of patients of a range of ambulance response types.

East Midlands Ambulance Service NHS Trust (EMAS) serves a population of around 4.8 million people across five counties of England.

It covered call-outs for conditions ranging from kidney stones, high fevers, breathing difficulties, and severe abdominal pain, to anxiety attacks, medicinal side effects, injuries, and stroke.

Findings outlined that offering reassurance to patients and their families alleviates fear and anxiety.

Reassurance was gained from the continuous presence of healthcare staff, whether by telephone or in person, being involved in the handover process if they were taken to hospital, and a more informal style of communication by clinicians.

It is now being considered at national NHS level.

Lead author, Fiona Togher and colleague Viet-Hai Phung, researchers who work with Professor Niro Siriwardena in the Community & Health Research Unit at the University of Lincoln, carried out the study with Professor Alicia O’Cathain and Janette Turner from the University of Sheffield.

Fiona said: “There is an increasing need to assess the performance of emergency ambulance services using measures other than the time it takes for an ambulance to arrive on scene.

“Patients and their families are often extremely anxious, and they value the reassurance from ambulance service staff that they were receiving appropriate advice, treatment and care.

“Our findings demonstrate that a fast response and high standard of clinical care, although important, may not be sufficient for a good patient experience.

“The implication of this is that the proportion of users reporting that they feel reassured by the ambulance service response should be measured alongside current measures such as response times and clinical performance indicators.

“Our findings could be used to inform the development of a standardised measure of patient experience for ambulance services.”

The findings have been presented to the National Ambulance Services Clinical Quality Group and the National Ambulance Services Research Steering Group, and the report will also be sent to the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives Group.

The research is part of a wider five-year programme to improve pre-hospital care across the NHS. The study has now been published in the journal Health Expectations.