Call for transparency in ambulance delays death summit

The East of England Ambulance is being investigated for allegations made by a whistleblower. Picture

The East of England Ambulance is being investigated for allegations made by a whistleblower. Picture: SIMON PARKER

An investigation into whether ambulance delays caused the deaths of patients in the East of England must be transparent and independent, a union leader has warned.

Ipswich MP Sandy Martin. Picture: SEANA HUGHES

Ipswich MP Sandy Martin. Picture: SEANA HUGHES

The East of England Ambulance Service is to be the subject of a high-level ‘risk summit’ over claims 20 patients died during the Christmas and New Year period while waiting for paramedics.

Chris Jenkinson, eastern regional secretary of UNISON, wants to see union members with a seat at the table.

The emergency meeting is due to be held by NHS England, NHS Improvement and the Care Quality Commission to discuss allegations made by a senior whistleblower and publicised by MP Clive Lewis.

Mr Jenkinson said: “There is no representation of staff in there, we have not been invited, and as far as I know local MPs are not being involved in it as representatives of the community.

Dr Dan Poulter. Picture: PAUL GEATER

Dr Dan Poulter. Picture: PAUL GEATER - Credit: Archant

“I think people will look at it and think maybe it needs to be a little bit transparent and independent than what it is.”

The whistleblower alleged the deaths occurred during a period of intense pressure on the NHS between mid-December and early January.

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Mr Jenkinson said during this time A&E departments were full, which meant paramedics were delayed getting back on the road because they had to wait with patients in hospital corridors or in the back of ambulances.

He added: “Our members are well-trained and they are very proud of the job they do and they’re committed to the NHS and to the ambulance service. It’s what they have chosen to do and many have dedicated their whole professional lives to it.

Dr Therese Coffey. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Dr Therese Coffey. Picture: GREGG BROWN

“They want to work in a safe environment, for them and more importantly for patients. They are not entirely confident that that’s the case at the moment and it’s not what they joined the service to do, they joined the service to be the first line of response when people need care.”

Mr Jenkinson said these problems were “wholly down to the underfunding of the service”.

A spokesman for the East of England Ambulance Service said: “We asked for an independent review last week and welcome the decision from our regulators.

“It is important that we examine our performance during the festive period against our plans, both internally and with our system partners.”

MP says investigation must look at wider health system

Top politicians in Suffolk have welcomed the review, which was announced by Conservative health minister Steve Barclay in the House of Commons.

Ipswich Labour MP Sandy Martin was pleased with the news, but warned the investigation could not look at ambulance issues in isolation.

He said: “I am wholly in favour of this summit, but it cannot only look at the ambulance performance – it has to look at the other issues that surround this like the performance of A&E departments.

“If you are getting ambulances held up at hospitals for a long time because there is no one at A&E to deal with patients, then it is not a surprise if there are not enough ambulances out there to deal with emergencies quickly enough.

“There has to be an examination of the whole system – and that may require extra money to be spent.”

Mr Martin warned any real solution could prove costly: “I know there’s the mantra that you can’t solve problems by throwing money at them, but sometimes you have to invest in services.”

Central Suffolk and North Ipswich Conservative MP Dr Dan Poulter said: “There have been longstanding concerns about the capacity of the East of England Ambulance Service to deal with times of high demand for patient services.

“I welcome the announcement of this Risk Summit, which if it is to be successful, must provide an opportunity for frontline staff to raise concerns about the very real pressures they face in being able to deliver high quality patient care.”

Suffolk Coastal MP Dr Therese Coffey also backed the summit proposal: “I welcome the intervention from the minister.

“I had been liaising with the East of England Ambulance Service for them to come to Parliament in March to give MPs an update on the turnaround plan.

“However, following the concerning dossier of response time delays, as featured in the EADT over the weekend, I have requested a far more urgent meeting so MPs can understand the present challenges and hold the ambulance service to account.”