MPs were ‘misled’ by ambulance trust, former health minister claims

The ambulance control room in Hellesdon.Chief Executive Robert Morton.Byline: Sonya DuncanCopyright:

The ambulance control room in Hellesdon.Chief Executive Robert Morton.Byline: Sonya DuncanCopyright: Archant 2017 - Credit: Sonya Duncan

A former health minister has claimed ambulance bosses 'misled' MPs on a number of matters relating to winter pressures.

The Health Service Journal (HSJ) reported this week how MPs told a health minister and NHS bosses that they had no confidence in the East of England Ambulance Trust leadership.

It happened at a private meeting which took place earlier this month.

And both Norman Lamb, Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk and former health spokesman, and Conservative MP for South Norfolk Richard Bacon told the HSJ they raised worries about the trust's leadership.

MP Richard Bacon. Photo :Sonya Duncan

MP Richard Bacon. Photo :Sonya Duncan - Credit: Eastern Daily Press vÉÄö

MORE: Nearly 500 ambulances waited more than an hour to handover patients over 'extremely busy' weekendIt is understood 'several MPs' raised concerns at the meeting earlier this month with health minister Steve Barclay and NHS England director of commissioning operations for the East of England Andrew Pike.

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It comes as the trust is set to announcement its conclusions into winter delays at its board meeting next week.

Mr Bacon told the HSJ: 'The problem at the trust appears to be one of leadership and management. I don't think it's a problem about money. They have been given time to get things right and I do not have any faith in [chief executive] Robert Morton and his team to turn it around.

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Norman Lamb MP. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Norman Lamb MP. Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

MORE: Taxis used by ambulance trust to take patients to A&E as pressure on NHS continues'It's five years since [former chief executive] Anthony Marsh's governance review and what has actually improved? When Anthony Marsh was there, things were getting better.'

Mr Lamb added: 'Trust directors collectively misled MPs on a number of matters.'

He said: 'They told us no patient safety concerns had been raised internally before the whistleblower's allegations in the media. However, I know this is not true as I was copied into an email with the trust chair raising precisely these concerns prior to the whistleblower going public.'

A whistleblower leaked a list in January which claimed at least 40 patients died or were harmed due to delays over Christmas and New Year - including one person who allegedly froze to death.

Ambulances queuing at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital A&E department.Picture: ANTONY KEL

Ambulances queuing at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital A&E department.Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

MORE: Man froze to death while waiting 16 hours for an ambulance, whistleblower claims, while 19 more died or were harmed due to delaysMr Lamb later said in the House of Commons that up to 81 patient deaths may have been caused by winter ambulance delays.

But the trust has consistently disputed this. It said although there had been 136 significant delays in a three-week period over winter - including one of 16 hours and another of 14 hours - only 22 were deemed 'serious incidents'.

Mr Lamb also said he had seen evidence the trust's winter plan was signed off too late, even though EEAST said it was signed in good time.

MORE: 'Risk summit' ordered after whistleblower raises concerns about East of England Ambulance Service patient deathsMr Lamb said: 'I asked the trust chief executive how many times he had spoken to the chief executive of Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals Foundation Trust in the run up to Christmas. His response was 'twice in the week before Christmas'. I understand that there were no discussions in the week before Christmas.'

An EEAST spokesman said: 'Every system experienced a higher level of demand over this past winter. The East of England Ambulance Service Trust alone had in excess of 96,000 calls made between December 17, 2017 and January 16, 2018. We usually have more than one million calls in any year.

MORE: Prime minister says lessons will be learned after whistleblower exposed concerns at ambulance service'Along with NHS colleagues from the region who attended the risk summit on January 30, 2018, we have reviewed what we need to do as a system to reduce risks. For example, for this coming winter we already have a draft winter plan which all systems have seen and there are agreed processes between hospital partners to make sure that patients are safely transferred as quickly as possible so that crews can get back to those waiting in the community.

'The key finding from independent report published on May 15 was that [the trust] needed more investment to increase its staffing and capacity to improve services for patients.

MORE: 'No stone left unturned' in crisis summit over ambulance service held behind closed doors'The report shows that the ambulance service is predicted to see improved response time performance for the sickest patients, particularly in the least densely populated areas of the East of England such as Norfolk and Suffolk.

'We are awaiting the results of the CQC's recent inspection and the finalisation of the independent clinical analysis of the 22 serious incidents that were declared over winter, out of the 47 where potential harm may have been caused. There is a standard way that we expect to have patient concerns raised, which are either through our DATIX [patient safety software] system or anonymously through our Freedom to Speak Up guardians.

MORE: Review orders more ambulances on the road and hospitals to check patients in quicker after winter crisis'We are keen to hear from MPs so that we can understand their concerns. The trust is committed to continuing regular engagement with MPs in Westminster.'

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