East Anglia: Damning report shows up the cracks in our ambulance service

Ambulances parked up outside A&E at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. Picture: Denise Bra

Ambulances parked up outside A&E at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. Picture: Denise Bradley - Credit: Archant 2013

Board and senior managers at East Anglia's region's failing ambulance trust had developed a 'sense of helplessness', according to a damning report.

They failed to listen to their own staff and stuck to plans to recruit more non-operational workers when there was a desperate need for frontline staff.

But the report's author, who is chief executive of one of the country's most successful ambulance services, told the EDP that while it would take time to turn things around, it would succeed.

In his report, which included 25 recommendations, West Midlands ambulance boss Anthony Marsh hit out at senior managers for not listening to staff.

He said: 'There is a feeling across the organisation that the trust board does not listen, and that leadership does not come from board level.

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'This can be evidenced in the fact that the board have only recently accepted that there is a shortage of front-line ambulance crews within the trust yet managers state they have been raising this for some time.'

He added: 'Despite this recognition, there are still plans to recruit about £350,000 worth of non-operational staff to the trust. This funding would be far better utilised recruiting further front-line paramedics, providing patient care and meeting response times.'

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The EEAST now has four weeks to pull together its action plan and Dr Marsh said he will work with the service for two days each week. He said he had not ruled out applying for the job of full-time chief executive.

The report added that there appeared to be a lack of accountability throughout the organisation, which he said was partly due to a complicated organisational structure and confused managers. He also said the trust's targets for this year were 'ambitious' given that there had not been a 'single cohesive improvement action plan'.

Dr Marsh was parachuted into the NHS trust in March to conduct a review into the failing organisation. The beleaguered East of England Ambulance Service has experienced a raft of board resignations over the last nine months and now has an interim chief executive and interim chairman in place.

The service is still failing to hit its target of responding to 75pc of the most life-threatening emergencies within eight minutes.

The health watchdog, the Care Quality Commission, told the management of the trust earlier this year to improve its performance because of slow response times. Speaking after the publication of the report, Dr Marsh said: 'The pressure staff have been under for quite some considerable time has been immense.'

But he denied lives were being put at risk, adding that improvements were already being achieved. He said: 'The plan will succeed. Everybody wants it to succeed. It will take time.

'It is going to be several weeks before that final plan is published and then putting all those building blocks in place. But be clear, progress is being made and people are working hard to bring about those further improvements.'

Dr Marsh said ambulance services both within and outside the NHS had experienced challenging times, but had got through it and returned to providing excellent services. He said that the other nine or eight ambulance service outside London were similar to the East of England in that they had high areas of urbanisation as well as rural areas.

'If we can achieve performance on a county basis like those services do, then we can in the East of England,' he added.

He also ruled out breaking up the service into smaller organisations as it would not allow the economies of scale. He added the the trust needed to ensure there was the right mix of ambulances and paramedics available, both operationally and in the control room. He added: 'To support staff is clearly a really high priority.'

The Trust's new chairman, Geoff Harris, said one of his first tasks would be to review the findings of the report and submit a formal response to the NHS Trust Development Authority.

He said: 'Any changes needed to our existing turnaround plan – which the trust published in April, to incorporate the recommendations – will be implemented promptly.'

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