Laura Pye, a Writer-Researcher here at the Future Cities Catapult, blogs about the latest from the LIFE project.

The Future Cities Catapult has completed the research phase of LIFE: a collaborative and user-centred project aiming to improve ambulance journey times.

Funded by Innovate UK and led by Red Ninja, the Life First Emergency Traffic Control (LiFE) project brings together the Future Cities Catapult, the Transport Systems Catapult and DYNNIQ to develop innovative solutions for reducing the time it takes emergency vehicles to reach patients in a critical condition.

Over the coming year, we’ll release a series of blogs following the project and looking at whether innovative solution can impact journey times.

The challenge

Ambulance services across the UK are required to meet 75% of life-threatening cases within 8 minutes to guarantee NHS funding and avoid fines. Many struggle to meet this target and aging demographics, a growing population and continual public health cuts put additional strain on resources.

Our research

To understand the range of issues impacting emergency response times, the project’s research phase focused on mapping the service journey of an ambulance – from the initial emergency call to the patient’s treatment.

Taking a user-centred and design-led approach, this exercise was informed through urban observation and interviews with ambulance staff.

Conversations with call takers, dispatchers, paramedics and higher management revealed the human perspective of the ambulance journey, whilst urban observation – in emergency vehicles, at junctions near hospitals and through ambulance CCTV ­– provided the wider context of these insights.

What we learned…

One of the biggest challenges ambulance crews face in meeting the 8-minute target is the unpredictable behaviour of other road users.

The UK Highway Code currently advises drivers to “pull to the side of the road and stop” if an ambulance with flashing lights or sirens is approaching. However, such ambiguous guidelines can be confusing for members of the public, who often panic or inadvertently obstruct one another while attempting to make room for emergency vehicles. To compensate for this uncertainty and navigate through traffic safely, front-line crews must remain especially alert to how other road users could behave, adding to the pressure they are already under and further contributing to delays.

As emergency response times are routinely affected by this confusion on the roads, is there a need for the UK government to provide clearer guidelines on how to behave around ambulances? Or could more effective solutions be found in adapting existing signalling infrastructure?

Our research identified a number of additional areas where innovative solutions could reduce ambulance journey times, and we will be exploring these in more detail in future blogs.

Next steps…

The insights gathered from this research will inform the second phase of the project, where innovation company, Red Ninja, will explore how new technologies could play a part in improving the time and efficiency of ambulance fleets.

Future Cities Catapult LIFE Research Team:
Anja Maerz, Research Lead/Cultural Anthropologist @sunnysides.
Belen Palacios, Designer/Researcher @belenpalacios

Future Cities Catapult LIFE contact:
Laura Pye, Writer-Researcher @laurapye16

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