East Anglia: Region’s ambulance service faces questions over deaths of 19 patients so far this year

The female involved in the collision was treated at the scene

The female involved in the collision was treated at the scene - Credit: Archant

The region’s ambulance service has come under fire for 19 deaths linked to delays in response times, equipment failure and decisions not to take a patient to hospital.

The embattled East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST) has declared 36 serious incidents so far this year, with 20 of those coming in March and April.

Of the 36 incidents, 19 relate to patient deaths following incidents including response delays, ambulance breakdowns, an incorrect address, equipment failure and clinical treatment. Three of the deaths were in Suffolk and seven in Essex.

Another reason was a “non-conveyance decision” where an agreement between clinicians and patients was made for them not to go to hospital, which was made in five cases in March and April.

An EEAST spokesman said in each of the serious cases, the patients were already “very unwell” upon the ambulance’s arrival and died as a result of their illness.

Health minister Dr Dan Poulter described the incidents as “unacceptably poor standards of care”.

“As a doctor I know there are very complex reasons sometimes for why things go wrong,” he said. “We have to look at each case individually but clearly there are a number of incidents here resulting in unacceptably poor standards of care for patients.

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“Having worked alongside paramedics in Suffolk, I know we have some incredibly dedicated, hard-working, highly-skilled paramedics and I would be surprised if it was a direct error from them that lead to a serious incident.”

The MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich added: “Historically there has been a problem with not enough money being invested in frontline services.

“Even though we have many hard-working paramedics, we simply don’t have enough of them or vehicles on the road to deliver the quality of service that patients in more rural counties like Suffolk deserve.”

Earlier this year EEAST chief executive Dr Anthony Marsh announced a package of new measures including recruiting 400 student paramedics in 2014/15, reducing the reliance on response cars, overhauling the fleet and equipment replacement programme and re-investing back-office funding into frontline delivery.

An EEAST spokesman said: “With each serious incident, we are open with the family to inform them of the process, and then the findings of the investigation.

“In each of the cases reported, the patients were already very unwell upon the arrival of the ambulance and died as a result of their illness.

“The number of serious incidents reported every year is a tiny percentage of the total number of jobs we attend.

“When they do happen, it is important to look into them and always encourage staff to flag any issues they have in order for them to be fully investigated.

“Each serious incident is thoroughly examined and reported externally, and measures put into place to help prevent such incidents happening again.

“We do monitor trends including increases in serious incidents being reported so we can investigate the reasons behind it.”