'Up to 81 patient deaths' may have been caused by winter ambulance delays, MP claims
PUBLISHED: 15:32 02 February 2018 | UPDATED: 16:23 02 February 2018
Up to 81 patients may have died due to ambulance delays in the east of England over a three-week period, according to a Norfolk MP.
Speaking in the House of Commons this afternoon North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb raised a number of concerns about the East of England Ambulance Trust (EEAST) and said regulator the Care Quality Commission (CQC) told him the region’s ambulance trust was a “service in crisis”.
It comes after three weeks of intense pressure on the region’s health service over Christmas and New Year.
Mr Lamb said there had been “several occasions” during this period where more than 200 calls via 999 could not be responded to at the moment they came in as “there were no crews or ambulances available”.
The former Liberal Democrat health spokesman said: “The CQC told me this morning ‘This is a service that is in crisis - patients are at risk,’ they said, yet they appear to have confidence in the leadership of this trust and I fear that they are complacent in their attitude and are not taking seriously enough the number of patient harm incidents that I have referred to.
“I have deep concerns about any family member of mine, any constituent or anyone else across the East of England who has to rely on this service that they will get a service that will protect them and safeguard them in their hour of need.”
He referred to a meeting with a senior whistleblower within the trust, who had previously provided a dossier detailing some 40 incidents where they said patients had been caused harm due to delays.
But Mr Lamb today said: “I’ve seen a list of 40 cases of potential patient harm associated with delays in response times including 19 cases where patients have lost their lives.”
He added: “Beyond the list of 40 cases I understand that there’s a further 120 incidents of potential patient harm associated with delays and that we’re talking about potentially up to 81 patients deaths in that period of time associated with delays.”
He gave one example of one of his constituents who told Mr Lamb her mother was ill on Boxing Day and they had to call an ambulance, and she was told that because her mother was still breathing the wait would be an hour.
The woman had to call 999 again when her mother stopped breathing, having suffered a heart attack and a stroke, and her and her sister had to perform CPR.
When the crew arrived she was pronounced dead.
Clive Lewis, MP for Norwich South, also spoke during the debate and said he had been “inundated” with similar stories. And he placed blame at the feet of the government.
Mr Lamb said the 91-year-old mother-in-law of close friends in South Norfolk fell on to a cold stone floor last Friday.
He said: “They called 999 at 8.45pm. An ambulance arrived at 4am, left at 4.45am to go to the hospital and had to wait in the ambulance until 6am and then on a trolley for two more hours.
“This is a 91-year-old - surely this intolerable. This could be a family member of any of us. We all have a stake in this and I think we have to recognise it’s intolerable.”
Mr Lamb said the 92-year-old mother of another constituent had a nine-hour wait, developing hypothermia while waiting for the ambulance to arrive following a broken leg.
He went on: “I’m told the assessment of many internally is that the service over this period of time was unsafe and that they don’t have assurances that going forward if there was a period of very cold weather or a flu epidemic that the trust would be able to provide a safe service.”
Mr Lamb said the concerns appear to have been recognised after a “risk summit” was held, adding: “My central plea to the minister is we need an independent governance review.”
He said he understood there was a £2.8 million underspend in month nine of the financial year in the trust, asking: “How can that be justified?”
Responding to the concerns, health minister and North East Cambridgeshire MP Stephen Barclay relayed the action points raised by the risk summit held into the trust last week.
He said eight additional ambulances had already been put on the roads.
Mr Barclay said “a wide ranging plan of immediate actions has been put in place to address the issues that were identified” following a risk summit on Tuesday, as he told Mr Lamb his concerns were being taken “seriously”.
He said he had spoken to the chief executives of NHS England and NHS Improvement, and also the chairman of the risk summit, about the issues.
Mr Barclay went on: “I am also assured that the trust has identified all potential causes where there were serious delays in response, and following an initial investigation it is examining 22 such cases through the serious incident procedure.
“This will ensure that individual cases are properly investigated.”
He said actions to deliver immediate service improvements, arising from the risk summit, were being taken forward, and included ensuring the trust has “sufficient capacity for the rest of the winter”.
Mr Barclay added: “As a result of these actions to help manage winter demand the trust will put eight additional vehicles on the road for each day until Easter and that is with immediate effect.”
The East of England Ambulance Service sent a series of tweets in response to the debate.
It said: “The trust was unable to respond to a very small number of the 50,000 calls we handled over a 15-day period as quickly as we would like. We are thoroughly investigating these and working with families to keep them updated.
“Every year, demand on the service goes up. The trust was prepared for winter. However, the festive period was unprecedented with extreme levels of demand and delays in handing patients over at hospitals. At peak demand times, a 999 call was received every 20 secs.”
On staffing, it said: “We have recruited over 1,500 frontline staff since 2013/14.”
It said recruitment continues, also noting: “The recruitment team compile a waiting list of people who have been successful but want to go where we are over-established. This is usual practice. Wherever we can offer a role or encourage somewhere to take up a post somewhere else we do so.”
The trust also claimed spending on lease cars has reduced and is projected to decrease this year.