East Anglia: MP says region’s ambulance trust joins list of NHS scandals

East of England Ambulance Trust ambulances work out out of the Norwich office in Hellesdon.PHOTO BY

East of England Ambulance Trust ambulances work out out of the Norwich office in Hellesdon.PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY - Credit: Archant Norfolk

Ambulance bosses should 'examine their own consciences' in the wake of damning assessment of leadership at the service, health minister Anna Soubry said yesterday.

Her comments came as the region's MPs lined up to slam the board of the East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST) and the parts of the wider NHS during a 90 minute debate on its performance in parliament.

The EDP offered an opportunity for the under fire non-executive members of the board to have their say, but the EEAST was unable to contact them.

Witham MP Priti Patel, who secured the Westminster Hall hearing,said the EEAST joined a list of 'scandal and incompetence' which had put lives at risk' including the Mid-Staffordshire inquiry and Care Quality Commission scandal in Cumbria, which she said were the consequences of the rotten culture of management failures, cover-ups and inept strategic leadership in the NHS.

'That culture is simply not acceptable, and it is about time we took the lid off many NHS trusts and started to ask questions about the failure we have seen across the country,' Ms Patel added.

The debate comes after a damning government review by West Midlands ambulance boss Anthony Marsh earlier this month which accused leaders of developing a 'sense of helplessness'.

Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey and Ms Patel last week wrote to the non-executive directors of the East of England Ambulance Service calling on them to step down over 'inept' leadership.

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Ms Patel said that while most of the executive directors at the trust had moved on, including former chair, Maria Ball, it was 'deeply alarming and thoroughly disgraceful' that five non-executive directors who had presided over the mismanagement of the trust still sat on the board.

The Trust said non-executive director Caroline Bailes was due to stand down at the end of July when her term ends and vice chair Paul Remington will have his term extended while a replacement is found. The three other non-executive directors Phil Barlow, Margaret Stockham and Anne Osborn were also called on to resign by Ms Patel.

Ms Patel said: 'They all seem to refuse to take any responsibility for the failure that they have presided over, and they continue to receive funds from the taxpayer to continue in their role. By choosing to remain in post they are putting their own interests above those of the public, patients and front-line staff.'

Answering Ms Patel's question about what was preventing the current non-executive directors from resigning their posts immediately, Ms Soubry said: 'I know of no reason why they shouldn't. It is a matter of their own consciences.'

She added: 'I am not normally one to shy away from giving an opinion, but I think in this instance it is important the ministers don't get involved and don't give an opinion. It would be improper. It is for those who serve in these position to examine their own position and own consciences and act accordingly.'

But in a statement the EEAST said: 'New chairman Dr Geoff Harris, who has been in post for a month, is reviewing the capability and capacity of Board leadership at the Trust. This will be done in a managed way but there will be changes to the Board as it is reconstituted.'

There were also calls for the EEAST to be broken up during the debate.

South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon said the Trust was 'simply too big, and that is obvious to everyone'.

He said: 'When I find that ambulances are being dragged away to Bedford and Luton, which are one hour 20 minutes, one hour 25 minutes or one hour and 30 minutes from my constituency, I know that something is fundamentally wrong. We must stop thinking so much about economies of scale and start thinking about the economy of flow—removing the blockages that stop things working properly.'

The EEAST added: 'The Trust published its turnaround plan in April which sets out the challenges and problems we face and the actions required to turnaround the organisation. The governance review, from Dr Marsh of West Midlands Ambulance Service and published earlier this month, identified many of the issues already included in the turnaround plan. The Board are currently reviewing this report and any additions or amendments required to the turnaround plan will be incorporated promptly.

'There are some early signs of improvement such as better response times and reduced sickness absence. However, there is still much work to be done and turning the service around will take time.'

The Eastern Daily Press Ambulance Watch campaign was also praised by Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey who said: 'I thank our local newspapers, the East Anglian Daily Times and the Eastern Daily Press. Nigel Pickover and Terry Hunt have done good things to keep up the pressure and stand up for their readers, our constituents, who are patients of the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust.'