Ambulance trust defends itself after MP criticises its challenge over release of patient safety data

PUBLISHED: 07:00 18 June 2018 | UPDATED: 12:43 18 June 2018

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb. Picture: Mark Bullimore

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb. Picture: Mark Bullimore

Archant Norfolk 2015

The ambulance trust has defended itself after an MP criticised a "scandalous" decision to spend public money on challenging the release of patient safety information.

Norman Lamb, MP for North Norfolk, has condemned the East of England Ambulance Trust’s (EEAST) decision to appeal a ruling by the Information Commissioner telling it to release data on patient safety and staff welfare.

It came after a constituent of Mr Lamb used Freedom of Information (FOI) laws to request figures on how the trust was performing in terms of delays in reaching patients. But the trust decided the request was vexatious and refused it, a decision which was overturned by the Information Commissioner. The trust has since appealed.

Mr Lamb, who called the culture as the trust “rotten”, said: “It beggars belief that the trust is using public funds to challenge the ruling of the Information Commissioner, who reached a clear decision that the trust was wrong to block this information.

“It seems to me that this is all about covering up bad news and blocking proper scrutiny – particularly in the run-up to the winter period. Now they are using public funds in an attempt to overturn the Information Commissioner’s decision so that they can maintain their policy of refusing to provide this information to my constituent.”

He said the documents had been publicly available in the past under a previous chief executive.

But the trust said they rejected Mr Lamb’s allegations in the “strongest terms”.

They said they believed the Information Commissioner’s ruling was incorrect, and responding to the request would take it beyond the maximum time and resources allowed under the FOI Act.

They said the applicant had made 171 FOI requests from November 2015 to October 2017.

“As far as possible, we have sought to reply positively to those requests,” they said. “Given the large number of requests and that the applicant says the information is needed for union activities rather than issues of patient safety, the trust has sought to agree other, more proportionate ways of providing UNISON with relevant information and much of this information is now voluntarily and regularly reported to UNISON.”

They said trust performance data was published nationally, and the appeal had nothing to do with winter pressures. Instead, they said, it was part of their aim to use trust resources appropriately long-term.

Mr Lamb’s accusation came as figures showed slow ambulance response times at the trust.

Ambulance quality indicators for May, released last week, show that for calls where a one-hour response time was agreed with healthcare professionals, the average response time was actually two hours and 40 minutes - the worst of the 10 trusts in the country.

For two-hour urgent responses, the mean response time was three hours and 16 minutes.

It compared to a national average of one hour and 49 minutes.

But the trust said the figures were misleading, and that all MPs in the region had been briefed that EEAST is “not currently commissioned to deliver national targets”, and comparing trusts while not recognising variation in resources was inaccurate.

“It was announced in May that the trust is to receive a significant increase in funding to recruit 330 additional frontline staff and 160 more ambulances to meet performance standards by 2019,” a spokesperson said.

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