Ambulance service has work to do

ESSEX'S morale-hit ambulance service is among the worst in the country according to an independent report published today.Essex Ambulance Service NHS Trust has been named in the country's bottom five, failing to earn even a single star rating by inspectors working for the Commission for Health Improvement (CHI).

ESSEX'S morale-hit ambulance service is among the worst in the country according to an independent report published today.

Essex Ambulance Service NHS Trust has been named in the country's bottom five, failing to earn even a single star rating by inspectors working for the Commission for Health Improvement (CHI).

It joins ambulance services in Dorset, Hampshire, Tees East and Yorkshire and Wiltshire as the only ones to be branded with an overall zero rating – the poorest level of performance against key targets, with three stars the maximum.

A spokeswoman for Essex Ambulance Service NHS Trust, which employs around 1,500 people, today insisted its new chief executive had already started to raise the low morale of staff.


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Rating every English NHS trust, the independent CHI reports show how each one has fared against national averages for 2002/3 in four areas, including patient and clinical care.

It said the Essex Ambulance Service had "significantly under-achieved" in two out of four key targets: failing to meet life-threatening Category A calls within the Government's eight minute target; and in improving the working lives of its staff.

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It also "under-achieved" in the area of financial management by failing balance its books.

However, the report highlighted areas of strength within the trust, pointing out performance in meeting clinical targets, including training of paramedic staff, was "above average".

According to Government guidelines, 75% of ambulances must reach immediately-life threatening 999 calls within eight minutes, but the CHI report states that for 2002/3 in Essex, the figure was just 62%.

A spokeswoman for the trust said low morale among its 600 frontline staff was largely to blame for the problems and said she had no doubt there would be an improvement in performance this time next year. She added that the

service was now actually meeting its eight-minute targets.

Taking over from Gron Roberts, who was promoted to a post in London in January, new chief executive Anthony Marsh had ushered in radical changes including overtime payments, she said.

Mr Marsh, 38, said: "We are naturally very disappointed with the rating as tremendous efforts had been made throughout the trust since the beginning of the year.

"We are now making significant progress towards improving our services which reflects our commitment and determination to do the very best for our patients."

He also said communication among staff had been improved after they had complained their issues were not being listened to.

Nick Bradley, Unison regional officer representing Essex ambulance personnel, said he was not surprised by the trust's poor performance.

He said: "The previous senior management seemed hell bent on picking fights with their own staff. The situation in Essex was dire.

"These results are just symptomatic of their attitudes – it confirms everything we've been saying for the last year.

"Fortunately, in Mr Marsh we now have someone we are prepared to work with and already in the short time that he's been there has won the respect of the rank and file."

North Essex MP Bernard Jenkin said: "Clearly there's been some kind of failure in the service. Ambulance drivers and paramedics are fantastic people and I want to know what's been going on.

"When the House of Commons rises, I'm going to write the chief executive of the trust to ask if I can spend a day in an ambulance to see what really are the problems."

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