Essex/Suffolk: Management snub as ambulance report published

Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey has asked the Government to intervene following concerns over the

Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey has asked the Government to intervene following concerns over the region's ambulance service - Credit: Archant

SENIOR ambulance managers yesterday failed to show at a meeting to scrutinise their failure to hit response times in Suffolk, the EADT can reveal.

The snub came on the same day that health inspectors published a damning report citing concerns about patient care.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) team observed, during an unannounced visit to the East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST), “a significant inequality of service between rural and urban areas”, noting the trust “regularly failed to meet them (response times) in Norfolk and Suffolk”.

The report states: “The trust’s performance in relation to its ambulance response times had deteriorated and people could not be assured they would receive care in a timely and effective manner.”

And it emerged the ambulance service should be fined after plans to impose financial penalties if February’s targets were not met were put in place.

Last month both region-wide and in Suffolk, the trust failed to hit the A8 target to reach 75% of the highest priority patients within eight minutes, hitting 61% in Suffolk and 69% across the region.

The A19 target, for a fully equipped ambulance to attend on 95% of all occasions within 19 minutes, was also missed with the trust hitting just 85% in Suffolk compared with 92% regionally.

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But the EADT understands the trust cannot be fined because the region’s hospitals failed to hit their handover times.

Reacting to the CQC report, Suffolk Coastal MP Dr Therese Coffey, said it was a “sad day” for the trust – understood to be the first ambulance service to be failed by the CQC.

She said: “The ambulance trust fails on the key measure of response times with the impact on patients and staff.

“I am pleased the good work on other issues has been recognised by CQC.

“As the first ambulance trust to be failed by CQC on these criteria, board directors, including the chairman, really do have to ask themselves if this is the right time to continue or if they should step aside.

“There are some factors they do not control directly like hospital handover times but these issues are not all new. I want to see the chief executive succeed and it is good that we are getting some external help.

“We already know that the Government asked the chief executive of the West Midlands Ambulance Service to go in and the trust have a further seven days to produce a plan to start turning things around.

“The problems didn’t arise overnight and it will take some time to fix but we can’t wait for a year. I’m prepared to press the powers that be to resolve the key causes of delays.”

A spokesman for NHS Suffolk said: “NHS Suffolk remains concerned that standards for ambulance response times are still not being met by EEAST, as highlighted in this CQC report. It is important that these standards are met to ensure the best outcome for patients. NHS Suffolk is working with the ambulance service and the NHS commissioners of the service to address these urgent concerns.

“The national NHS contract has a financial consequence for ambulance trusts who fail to meet the agreed national standards for response times across an entire year. Unfortunately in 2012-13 the East of England Ambulance Service Trust has fallen short of these standards and this consequence should be applied. The Commissioning Consortium is working closely with ambulance trust executives to ensure that the issues that are causing the deterioration in response times are addressed. Commissioners are also taking action with acute hospitals where ambulance handover of patients is delayed. “

The report was published yesterday – the same day as Suffolk’s Health Scrutiny Committee convened to discuss their concerns over unacceptable response times.

But committee members were left disappointed when the trust’s interim chief executive Andrew Morgan and director of emergency operations Neil Storey failed to turn up.

Committee chairman Alan Murray, said: “The committee were planning to consider the current state and future planning of the ambulance service but the ambulance service personnel who were able to attend the meeting were not considered to be able to represent the board’s views. As such the committee unanimously agreed to defer the meeting.”

A trust spokesman said: “The trust sent a senior delegation to the scrutiny committee. Before the meeting the trust had confirmed the chief executive could not be present.

“Unfortunately, the director of emergency operations was unable to attend, but the trust did have two very experienced associate directors from its emergency operations present along with local managers.”

Andrew Morgan, interim Chief Executive of the Trust said: “I recognise that our performance and response times are simply not good enough.

“That is why we are recruiting more front line staff and seeking to put more ambulances out on the road, whilst also seeking to reduce the delays we experience in handing over patients at hospitals.

“We are also carrying out a clinical capacity review to better understand what resources are required to meet patient demand. This is alongside implementing an organisational strategy to better empower, engage and involve staff; together with learning from the good practice of other ambulance services from around the country.

“Whilst we are funded to hit a regional target, performance in more rural areas also needs to improve and we are currently in talks with our commissioners to address this issue. To make our service more open and transparent, in February we started publishing our performance on a monthly basis by primary care trust area so the public can see how we are doing locally. We will report at local Clinical Commissioning Group level from April 2013 when these new organisations come into being.

“Our staff work hard day and night to provide the best possible care for patients, as reflected in some very positive feedback from the CQC in this report; I believe that we can harness the passion of our staff with the plans we have put in place and we will start showing steady improvements over the coming months.”

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