Ambulance Watch: 999 trust is improving, despite spike in serious incidents, says CEO

One of the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust's new ambulances, based on the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 519 CDI model from Orwell Truck & Van. One of the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust's new ambulances, based on the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 519 CDI model from Orwell Truck & Van.

Friday, March 28, 2014
6:30 AM

The chief executive of the East of England Ambulance Service said performance was beginning to improve, despite a spike in the number of serious incidents last month.

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Investigations have begun after the under-performing ambulance service received 11 serious incident reports in February, three of which related to the deaths of patients following response delays.

The new CEO of the NHS trust, Anthony Marsh, has already put in place a number of measures since January, including plans to recruit 400 new student paramedics, halving the number of front-line staff on secondments, and a pledge to reduce the number of Rapid Response Vehicles (RRV) to get more ambulances on the road.

However, a report to the board of directors, who will meet in Bedfordshire today, said that there had been a rise in serious incident reports from three in December, to five in January, and 11 in February. Eight of last month’s serious incident reports related to ambulance delays.

Over the last two years, the number of serious incidents reported to the East of England Ambulance Service have remained below ten a month.

However, Dr Marsh said the rise in incidents was down in part to a new review process for delayed patients, “driven by the trust’s focus on transparency and openness.”

He added that performance was improving in Norfolk where the average ambulance response time for the most urgent ‘red’ calls had fallen from around 24 minutes in April 2013 to 15 minutes in March.

He said: “We simply don’t have enough staff or ambulances on the road which is why we are recruiting hundreds of student paramedics and putting out additional ambulances. These actions are aimed at reducing the long ambulance waits some patients experience and I am pleased we are starting to see these delays reduce and performance improve. I am particularly pleased with the progress we are making in Norfolk where we have seen substantial improvements in ambulance response times. Improvements will continue as more staff are recruited and trained.”

Norman Lamb, MP for North Norfolk and health minister, added that the performance of the East of England Ambulance Service would not be transformed overnight.

“The spike in serious incidents is very alarming. My hope is that as new student paramedics come on stream and get on the road supporting the qualified paramedics and rebuild the workforce then we might start to see some improvement.”

“We are not going to suddenly see brilliant performance. It will take time to rebuild the service and I am confident it is on the right track,” he said.

Denise Burke, of the Act on Ambulances campaign and prospective parliamentary candidate for North Norfolk, said it was a concern that there had been a rise in incidents.

“I find it very, very worrying that patients are dying because of delays. It is not only about response times, but an issue of logistics and where ambulances are based,” she said.

The board of directors will also be told today that response times have also worsened over the last six weeks, according to new performance figures. A report said that the percentage of the most urgent 999 calls receiving a response in eight minutes had decreased in March, compared with February figures, because the trust had reduced the number of RRVs to increase ambulance numbers.

The first tranche of new student paramedics at the trust are due to start their training in Norwich next month and an extra 27 double staffed ambulances are set to be added to the service’s fleet by the end of June.

The EDP revealed in January that the ambulance trust had a total of 155 serious incidents since April 2010, of which 59 related to unexpected or avoidable deaths of patients.

Have you got a story about the ambulance service? Email adam.gretton@archant.co.uk

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