Suffolk/Essex: More questions for ambulance service over deaths


Ambulance. - Credit: Archant

Severely ill patients have died in Suffolk and Essex after the ambulance service had no emergency vehicles available to respond to 999 calls, it has emerged

Investigations are also under way into a Suffolk patient’s death after it was decided not to take them to hospital, and another death in the county linked to the possible mishandling of an emergency call.

The East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST) reported nine Serious Incidents (SIs) across the region in July, six of which involved patients dying.

In two cases - one in Suffolk and one in Essex - bosses said an early investigation seemed to indicate that the Trust had no available vehicle to send to patients who died after suffering cardiac arrest, but that hospital handover delays at the time would be reviewed to establish if there was any correlation.

A report due before the Trust’s board shows a fall from 17 SIs in June to nine in July and two in August, but adds that delays and non-conveyance of patients remained the “main point of concern”.

As well as one death in Suffolk, a death in Essex and a third in Cambridgeshire followed a decision not to take the patient to hospital. In Norfolk, a death was also linked to a pre-hospital assessment of the urgency of their condition.

Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey responded with concern but acknowledged that serious incidents had decreased since the January appointment of chief executive Dr Anthony Marsh, who announced new measures to tackle frontline failings, including more paramedics and ambulances.

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Dr Coffey said: “It is very concerning to see that there are still serious issues in our ambulance service with no ambulance available for two patients in cardiac arrest. This is why I made the call two years ago that we needed to see major changes in response times.

“Thankfully these serious incidents are decreasing, and since Dr Anthony Marsh has taken over, more ambulances have been deployed on the frontline and more paramedics have been recruited.

“I have asked the chairman and chief executive to update MPs in Parliament later this autumn on the turnaround plan and I will continue to keep a close eye on matters.”

In May, this paper reported that the EEAST had declared 36 serious incidents since the beginning of the year, with 19 deaths linked to delays in response times, equipment failure and decisions not to take a patient to hospital.

The Trust said that reports of SIs were routinely followed by an investigation into why they happened and what can be done to stop them recurring.

A spokesman said: “Serious incidents are a way of recording any issues that staff have come across during their work. They cover a wide remit too, including incidents like an unexpected/avoidable death of a patient, a situation that prevents care being provided (such as damage to property), and allegations of abuse.

“The investigation that follows a reported serious incident aims to find out why it happened and what actions can be taken in order to prevent it happening again. Obviously we want to see serious incidents reduce and recruiting 400 student paramedics and putting more ambulances out on the road will have a huge impact overall.”