Ambulance Watch: 999 trust still failing patients, according to latest inspection

Ambulances parked up outside A&E at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. Picture: Denise Bradley Ambulances parked up outside A&E at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. Picture: Denise Bradley

Thursday, January 30, 2014
8:52 AM

The East of England Ambulance Service has made significant improvements, but is still failing patients, according to a new inspection by the health watchdog.

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Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspectors carried out an unannounced inspection of the under-performing NHS trust in December and found that the organisation was failing in two out of seven areas because of slow response times and a lack of qualified paramedics.

The chief executive of the ambulance trust pledged to make further improvements after the CQC said the ambulance service was not hitting staffing standards and the level of care and welfare for people who use services was not good enough.

The ambulance trust has been given a month to put together an action plan to meet standards.

The inspectors said the trust was meeting standards in the areas of safety, availability and suitability of equipment, requirements relating to workers, supporting workers, complaints and assessing and monitoring the quality of service provision.

A damning CQC inspection and governance review last year led to a mass resignation of ambulance trust board members.

In a report published today, the CQC said: “Since our last inspection we found that the trust had made significant improvements in a number of areas. Staff sickness absence rates had reduced and the number of staff who had received a performance development review had increased considerably. Complaints relating to ambulance delays had decreased, as had the number of serious incidents experienced by the trust. High spending on private ambulance services had reduced.”

“However, the trust had not seen the improvement needed in some areas such as its ambulance response times to life threatening 999 calls. There continued to be large variations in response time performance across different regions of the trust and there remained problems with getting people who had suffered a stroke to a specialist centre within 60 minutes. Ambulance delays at hospitals, although improving in some areas, still did not meet the required level of performance and the trust had incurred fines from its

commissioners as a result.”

Dr Marsh, who became CEO at the East of England Ambulance Service this month, said that whilst the report acknowledges progress over the last year, there is more to be done.

“I welcome this report as it shows everyone where we are; the improvements we have made and confirms that the changes we are making will tackle the other areas that need improvement, although this will take time. We have started recruiting 400 student paramedics and I am delighted that we have had in excess of 1,000 applications in the first week. This is one of our immediate priorities and will form part of the board’s wider strategy to progress services and tackle resourcing issues.”

“In addition, we will be looking to recruit more graduate paramedics and provide additional training for existing staff. This, along with other actions we have put in place such as our Hospital Liaison Ambulance Officer schemes to help speed up patient handovers at hospitals, will improve patient care, reduce ambulance delays and be beneficial for staff.

“Although I have only been with the trust for under a month I can clearly see the determination of everyone throughout the service, from the board to the front line, to succeed and provide the type of service that we all want to see.”

Denise Burke, Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate for North Norfolk and an Act on Ambulances campaigner, said there was a“long way to go” before the ambulance trust is considered “fit for purpose”.

“It’s disappointing that 18 months on the Care Quality Commission have yet again criticised the East of England Ambulance Trust for it’s poor response times to emergency calls. This news comes a day after the interim chairman of the trust has resigned early. It is crucial that a new chair with the skills required is appointed to oversee the Trust alongside Dr Marsh as soon as possible.”

South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon said: “This is an encouraging report, although the CQC is clear that much remains to be done to get our ambulance service back on track.

“I welcome Dr Marsh’s determination to sort out the deep-seated problems at our ambulance service and, as the author of the report that originally exposed the Trust’s failings, he is very well placed to know what needs to be done to improve matters.”

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