Ambulance trust gave itself 10 extra minutes to deal with calls

Published: Friday 30th October 2015 by The News Editor

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An ambulance trust has been asked to check whether any patients were harmed after it gave itself 10 extra minutes to deal with some life-threatening calls.

The three-month project run by South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust during a busy winter period was “poorly handled”, the health regulator said.

Monitor has ordered a review of the programme, saying it “has reasonable grounds” to suspect the trust is in breach of its licence.

The trust changed how it handled some NHS 111 calls which were transferred to the 999 emergency system to give itself extra time to deal with more urgent calls, Monitor said.

The majority of these calls, in the second most serious category and classed as life-threatening but less time-critical, are expected to be dealt with within eight minutes under national standards.

Between December last year and February, the trust allowed itself up to 10 minutes more to re-assess some calls and decide whether an ambulance was needed.

The project had not been properly authorised and not enough thought was given to the impact the change might have on patients, Monitor said.

The trust’s leadership team could be replaced i f there is not enough progress made following the review , it added.

Paul Streat, regional director at Monitor, said: “Over the winter, there were significant demands on the NHS and it is understandable that trusts want to explore better ways of delivering the best possible care. But this project was poorly managed from the start, done without the proper authorisation and without enough thought given to how it might affect patients.

“We have asked the trust to review the action it took to make sure there was no harm to patients, and look again at the way decisions are taken to prevent something like this happening again.”

The trust said it faced “unprecedented call volumes” and “serious hospital handover delays” last winter.

It said the project it undertook involved taking extra time to “re-triage” some 111 calls to 999 “to determine whether or not sending an emergency ambulance was the correct response or indeed if the case needed up-grading”.

The trust’s c hief executive Paul Sutton said it had wanted to make sure the most ill patients were responded to promptly, but acknowledged that it had not acted in the right way.

He said: “However we recognise that it was not well implemented and we did not use our own corporate governance processes correctly. These are serious findings.

“We have already begun to take steps to address Monitor’s concerns and as part of this process, independent reviews will assess how decisions are made within the Trust, governance processes and our approach to patient safety.

“As a trust, we remain extremely proud of the high quality and compassionate clinical services that SECAmb provides to our patients.”

Published: Friday 30th October 2015 by The News Editor

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