13 patient deaths could have been avoided at region’s ambulance trust if better care had been given
Thirteen patient deaths at the region's ambulance service have been found to be potentially avoidable, this newspaper can reveal.
East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST) chiefs have confirmed that of 83 'serious incidents' between April 2015 and March 2016 – there were 13 cases in which patients died where the outcome could potentially have been different.
Norman Lamb, the MP for North Norfolk, said the number of serious incidents at EEAST was 'disturbing' and underlined the severe pressures facing ambulance crews in the east of England region.
Sandy Brown, director of nursing and clinical quality at EEAST, said the number of serious incidents in 2015/16 dropped from the year before despite a 'huge increase' in 999 calls received and seriously unwell patients cared for.
A serious incident occurs when an incident is so severe, or the potential for learning is so great, that an investigation is required to prevent similar incidents from taking place in future.
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Figures obtained by Mr Lamb through the Freedom of Information Act showed EEAST reported the highest number of serious incidents of all 10 ambulance trusts in England during 2015/16.
EEAST covers Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, and Bedfordshire.
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Of the 83 incidents reported by EEAST – 28 occurred when deteriorating patients were given 'suboptimal care'. This is more than twice the amount of the trust with the second highest number of incidents in that particular category.
'Those who are most vulnerable are starting to suffer as a result of the intolerable pressures on frontline care' - Norman Lamb
Mr Lamb said: 'These are disturbing figures which underline the severe pressures facing ambulance services.
'It suggests that those who are most vulnerable are starting to suffer as a result of the intolerable pressures on frontline care.
'On the face of it, these are disturbing figures which underline the severe pressures facing ambulance services in the East of England.
'The fact that that more than two serious incidents involving a failure to provide proper care for deteriorating patients were reported every month, on average, suggests that those who are most vulnerable are starting to suffer as a result of the intolerable pressures on frontline care.
'Ambulance crews continue to do outstanding work providing emergency care to patients across the region, as acknowledged by the CQC, but it is clear that they are having to work under increasingly difficult conditions. After the CQC recently found that improvement is needed at the trust, strong and effective leadership will be essential to guarantee the safety of patients and staff going forward.
'The bottom line is that the system is in desperate need of more money, and it is time for a full national discussion about how our health and care services are funded.'
The ambulance trust responds
Mr Brown said ambulance waits account for the highest percentage of serious incidents, and that no harm was caused to patients in around 27 of the incidents.
He said: 'We really encourage our staff to report incidents, both actual and near-misses, so that we can conduct thorough investigations into what happened, and then learn from them.
'The serious incident figures reported here also include what we call 'near misses', where something had the potential to go wrong but didn't.
'In these cases, which make up for almost a third of the figures, no harm was caused to patients.
'Last year we saw a huge increase in both the number of 999 calls we received and the number of seriously unwell patients we cared for.
'Despite this increase, the number of serious incidents we saw went down from the previous year, demonstrating the outstanding levels of care that our staff provide to patients.
'That said, we know there are improvements to be made.
'As Mr Lamb has alluded to, ambulance waits account for the highest percentage of our serious incidents.
'We are continuing with an extensive recruitment programme to increase the number of patient-facing staff we have, but there is still a significant capacity gap.
'We will continue to raise, discuss, and work with our commissioners and regulators around the funding required to address this issue.'
The trust was told to improve by health watchdog the Care Quality Commission last month.
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