East of England Ambulance Service boss responds to CQC concerns

Ambulances at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital on a busy evening.

Ambulances at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital on a busy evening. PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY - Credit: Archant Norfolk

The chief executive of the region's ambulance service last night insisted that management did have a grip on the reasons why it was struggling to improve performance following a critical report.

Andrew Morgan, who has been at the helm of the East of England Ambulance Service since December, said the NHS trust was dealing with an increased number of 999 calls, the ongoing challenge around the handover of patients at A&E departments, and increase in staff sickness. In responding to a list of ten EDP questions, the interim chief executive refused to be drawn on when response times would start to improve and admitted that the 15 extra ambulances announced last month had yet to be fully manned because of staff shortages.

Mr Morgan said the trust would be responding to the Care Quality Commission's concerns by March 27 including an action plan of how the inspectors' report will be addressed.

'The trust has already been taking action to address this issue by the ongoing recruitment of more staff, tackling sickness levels, and continuing to work with hospitals to address the ongoing issue of patient handover delays which mean that ambulances are waiting at hospital. Ultimately, we're addressing how to maximise the proportion of resources that go to the front-line.'

Mr Morgan added that the NHS trust was creating new general manager areas – including one for Norfolk and one for Suffolk – to improve services at a local level.

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'We've undergone a recruitment drive for 200 more clinicians, which is ongoing and we've got dozens in training or already out on the road. We know that we need more resourcing in Norfolk and Suffolk and with looking at the budget and considering front-line improvements, I expect a good proportion to go to the areas of greatest need,' he said.

Mr Morgan added that the trust was widening the operational and emergency staff structure to improve staff engagement and was launching Listening into Action – a year-long programme aimed at empowering staff. He added that the service was reviewing its Rapid Response Vehicles (RRV) deployment model to see how it could use its resources more effectively. For the last 10 months, the East of England Ambulance Service has failed to hit two key response times in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire.

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The trust is supposed to respond to 75pc of the most urgent life-threatening calls within eight minutes, but that figure is currently only 73pc and in Norfolk it is even lower at 64pc. The NHS trust is currently only reaching 93pc of A19-category incidents in 19 minutes and in Norfolk and Suffolk that figure is below 90pc.

Simon Wright, MP for Norwich South, said yesterday's CQC report confirmed the concerns that patients, politicians and the EDP had been raising over the last few months about poor performance.

'Too many patients have been let down. Whilst many get a good service and the best efforts of the front-line staff, there have been failings in some important regards. If the board can not get to grips with it, they need to consider their positions. This is a situation that has been going on longer than is acceptable and in terms of response times it has got worse,' he said

Norwich North MP Chloe Smith added that the report was extremely troubling. 'The trust needs leadership that can lead and can turn the problems around. Anything else betrays patients, betrays staff who continue to work tirelessly throughout long standing problems, and betrays the taxpayer,' she said.

Peter Aldous, MP for Waveney, said there were no real surprises in the report, which echoed the feedback of MPs and constituents.

'We are now seven months further on and quite frankly more should have been done by now. The new chief executive has got some proposals and they need to hit the ground running and pretty quickly. The board do need to be reflecting on the CQC report and need to question whether they are the best people to give Andrew Morgan the support and back-up he needs to get changes and improvements as quickly as possible,' he said.

A spokesman for the CQC said inspectors would make another unannounced inspection following the implementation of the NHS trust's action plan and could take enforcement action if the situation does not improve. The CQC has the power to issue fines and official warnings and in the worst case scenario suspend or cancel a service's registration.

Twenty years ago, Norfolk had an ambulance service that specifically covered the county.

However, ambulance services in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire were merged in April 1994 to create the East Anglian Ambulance Trust. In 2006, the trust turned into the East of England Ambulance Service after merging with Essex, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire.

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