COMPLAINTS about the ambulance service have nearly doubled as crews struggle to get to 999 calls fast enough.

A total of 142 complaints have been registered against West Midlands Ambulance Service NHS Trust so far this year (2009/10), nearly double the number received at this time last year when there were 77 (2008/09).

The most complaints – 85 – were about the clinical care service provided by ambulance crews and call handlers.

A common complaint was about ambulances not arriving quickly enough.

The level of clinical complaints has nearly trebled from the 31 recorded at this stage of the year in 2008/09.

The second most common source of complaint against ambulance crews or call handlers was “staff attitude” which was the root of 25 complaints in 2009/10 – so far nine more than were received at this point in the previous financial year.

Bosses blamed increasing 999 calls for falling levels of patient satisfaction at a meeting of West Midlands Ambulance Service NHS Trust board at Sixways Stadium in Worcester. Sir Graham Meldrum, chairman of the ambulance trust, admitted that the figures were “startling”.

Diane Lee, director of corporate service for the ambulance trust, said: “As an organisation, we are striving to learn from these complaints.

There is only one formal complaint for every 2,789 emergency calls. If we put it in perspective our work load has increased.”

Statistics were produced at the meeting to show the increasing numbers of 999 calls, particularly category A calls, which are the most serious and include road accidents, strokes and cardiac arrests.

There has been a 12.4 per cent increase across the region in 2009/10 so far compared with the previous financial year (121,384 calls increasing to 136,376 calls) and a 32.7 per cent increase in the Worcester and Hereford area (18,251 to 24,220 calls).

Specific complaints were about delays in ambulances arriving at a patient and there were even complaints that patients and their families did not know who to complain to.

The report also suggested that the source of many of the complaints were now being addressed.

The ambulance service now has an extra £11.8 million for 2008/09 to help crews get to the most, serious life-threatening 999 calls within eight minutes.

Contact details for the patient, advice and liaison service have now been put on the trust website so people who want to complain know what to do.

Staff from the patient transport service have been told to advise patients, where possible, of any delays in getting them home.