Ambulance Watch: 999 boss pledges to start hitting key response targets by the end of the year

PUBLISHED: 06:30 17 July 2014 | UPDATED: 12:33 18 July 2014

East of England Ambulance Service Trust CEO Anthony Marsh. Photo: Steve Adams

East of England Ambulance Service Trust CEO Anthony Marsh. Photo: Steve Adams

The chief executive of the region’s ambulance said he was confident that the under-performing organisation would start to hit key response targets by the end of the year as it nears a recruitment goal.

The challenges of the job

Dr Marsh, who has worked for ambulance trusts for almost 30 years, said he had found the job as East of England Ambulance Service CEO more difficult than he expected.

Dr Marsh, who remains as West Midlands Ambulance Service chief executive, said it had been an exciting seven months, but more challenges were on the horizon.

“Having worked in the East of England previously and worked on the report, I thought I knew exactly what I was taking on and I know to a large extent. It has been more difficult and more challenging. We know what the problem and the actions are, but implementing that as quickly I would like to has been an enormous challenge.”

“The staff have really responded to the challenge and too long they have suffered with insufficient staffing and a leadership team that did not listen to them. They are stepping forward to transform this ambulance service to the best in England and I am confident we will achieve our goals. I am contracted to work three days, but I do more than full-time hours and I do not want anyone thinking they have a part-time chief executive.”

Anthony Marsh, who conducted a damning review into the management of the East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST) last year, said he was convinced that the NHS trust could go from the worst to the best performing ambulance service in the country.

The CEO executive, who became the part-time boss of the East of England service in January, said that his transformation plan was well on track after offering contracts to more than 330 of the 400 student paramedics he set out to recruit this year.

He added that dozens of extra double staffed ambulances were now operating across Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire and the trust was on course to recruit 50 graduate paramedics this year and offer more training and career progression opportunities to emergency care assistants and technicians.

Dr Marsh said that front-line staff were working “flat out” to respond to patients as quickly as possible. However, there was still work to do before the organisation could start hitting its trust-wide target of responding to 75pc of the most life-threatening 999 calls within eight minutes and get an ambulance to 95pc to the most urgent cases within 19 minutes. He added that it would take another two years to turn around the fortunes of EEAST.

Control room pledge

The region’s ambulance service, which covers six counties, has control rooms in Norwich, Chelmsford and Bedford, which are responsible for receiving 999 phone calls and dispatching the appropriate front-line resources.

Dr Marsh said he had no plans to make any immediate changes to the NHS trust’s three control rooms, but pledged to always retain a centre in Norfolk.

“The control rooms are an integral part of the emergency response system. If we do not adequately deal with 999 calls correctly and do not send the adequate resources then we will always struggle. I can give an absolute commitment to a control room in Norfolk.”

“Until we have a stable 999 service we will not change anything with our control rooms and for the next two years we will continue to have at least three control rooms. When we have all the paramedics in position and fully trained and start to hit targets we can take a view on what the organisation requires for the long-term,” he said.

The Norwich control room is based in Hospital Lane, in Hellesdon, and answers all ambulance related 999 calls from Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire.

“We have an ambition to achieve the eight minute target by the end of the year and the 19 minute target by March next year. I am confident that we can do that. It depends on whether we can recruit the staff we have set out and what sort of winter we have and the increase in 999 calls,” he said.

EEAST had hundreds of paramedic vacancies and more than 300 students were waiting to complete their training at the start of the year.

Dr Marsh said he was “surprised and hugely disappointed” that the leadership of the NHS trust did not fully adopt the recommendations from his governance review last year, which urged bosses to stop recruiting emergency care assistants and to hire more student paramedics and graduates.

“Put simply we do not have enough staff and that has not changed since the day I arrived. I set out to hire 400 student paramedics and we have offered 338 contracts of employment to fill those 400 student paramedic roles. 100 are already in training and I am confident that in the next few weeks we will have offered all 400 contracts, which will have started training by January. It is the most ambitious recruitment training programme of any ambulance service,” he said.

East of England Ambulance Service Trust CEO Anthony Marsh. Photo: Steve Adams East of England Ambulance Service Trust CEO Anthony Marsh. Photo: Steve Adams

On the retention of qualified front-line staff, he said: “I do recognise that in the East of England we have lost more paramedics than the national average and I am trying to create an organisation where we attract the best people and retain the best people. This year we will probably lose 180 and the national average is 140 to 150.”

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