A quick recap for those who haven't yet seen me write about ORCON. ORCON is the government target that tells all ambulance services that they have to keep the time between the phone ringing up in Control and the ambulance arriving on scene to under eight minutes for our highest priority calls. There is also a nineteen minute target for not-so-serious calls. For the low priority calls, like grannies with broken hips, we can leave them on the floor for up to four hours.
This eight-minute target is based around outdated research and has little clinical significance for the majority of our patients, something admitted by our own chief executive as 90% of our calls come from people who do not need an emergency ambulance. This 90% figure is based on the London Ambulance Service's own research1.
It's easy to tell when to 'start the clock', as soon as the BT operator connects the 999 call to our Control, but when do you 'stop the clock'?
The target states that the ambulance should be on scene. Does this mean when the ambulance pulls up outside your house and I hit the big 'At Scene' button? Does it mean when the keys are out of the ignition of the ambulance (because we track that)? Does it mean when I poke my ugly mug around the bedroom door to find you on your bed with bellyache (and if you live in a block of flats with no working lift it might take me over a minute to actually reach you)?
All these are reasonable ways of measuring the time. When we pull up, or when the keys are out the ignition are easily measured due to the tracking devices in our ambulances. Being face-to-face with a patient would need us to have an accurate watch and to note the time ourselves, so accuracy would be a problem but it would better match the 'patient experience'.
How about marking us as 'on scene' when we are within 200 meters of the address? This is what many of us on the road suspect of happening – when we get within 200 meters or so of the address our MDT 'updates'.
It doesn't matter if you have crashed your car on one side of the dual carriageway and we have to drive an extra five miles to get on the correct side. It doesn't matter if we have to creep around tiny winding estate roads, wary of knocking off the wing mirrors of parked cars. It doesn't matter if the address is a bit wrong, if we are where the computer says we should be then we are 'on scene'.
As the time arrives when we have to finally collate our ORCON success rate approaches (appropriately enough April the 1st), so we find the percentage of calls that we make on target start creeping up towards the magic 75% mark.
Why is this? Well, in the words of our own Chief Executive,
“…our Management Information team check all our records to ensure we capture everything correctly. [The] team are checking every missed call, and with over one million calls, inevitably they are finding some that can be legitimately included.”
Which makes me think that they go over every call, and if we were within 200 meters of the address when the eight minutes are up, they then count us as being 'On scene' and therefore the job can be seen as a 'success', regardless of patient outcome.
As always, the LAS and LAS management have the full right to reply to anything that I write here. It would be nice if they could confirm, or deny, us being within 200 meters as being part of hitting our targets, and to what 'legitimately included' means.