NHS to place Sussex ambulance service in ‘special measures’

South East Coast Ambulance Service
South East Coast Ambulance Service

Sussex’s ambulance service is set to be placed in ‘special measures’ by NHS Improvement following an ‘inadequate’ rating by health regulators.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspected South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SECAmb) in May this year and found problems with its urgent and emergency care, safety, and leadership.

NHS Improvement has already started supporting the trust to improve quality of care, infection control, and workforce and complaints processes, and will soon appoint an improvement director to provide extra expert advice and support.

SECAmb has already put a recovery plan in place and its acting chief executive Geraint Davies said: “While we are pleased that the dedication and care of our staff is highlighted as good in this report, we are sorry that we have not met the standards expected in a number of other areas.

“Following initial feedback from the CQC we have already been working on and implementing a number of improvements. I would like to reassure everyone we serve that I, along with my senior team, am committed and focused on ensuring these necessary changes continue. We are determined to implement the changes required to restore confidence in our service.”

“I would also like to take this opportunity to point to the enormous amount of excellent work undertaken every day by our staff across our region, often in challenging circumstances, to respond to and treat patients, be it responding to a major road collision or saving the life of a patient in cardiac arrest.”

SECAmb has already embarked on a recruitment drive in a number of areas, strengthened its systems for managing medicines, undertaken an infection prevention and control awareness campaign, and has developed a detailed action plan for NHS 111.

Caroline Ansell, Eastbourne MP, said: “This is very disappointing but perhaps not surprising news, and it would now appear the service will be put into special measures by the CQC.

“The problems the service has encountered following its disastrous pilot scheme has led to widespread concern and a lack of confidence in the service’s management team so I welcome the CQC stepping in.

“I have also been told that, although the CQC has serious concerns, the report does recognise the good work by frontline staff and that should be mentioned and welcomed by residents and patients.

“I will be hosting the next parliamentary meeting with SECAmb management in the next few weeks at Westminster where MPs will be eager to find out what is going to be done to improve the service.

“People in Sussex are rightly concerned about what has happened and what will happen, and I know I will be wanting detailed answers on how the service intends to improve.”

Anne Eden, executive regional managing director for the south at NHS Improvement, said: “We know that more people than ever are requiring urgent or emergency care this year and that the demand is challenging trusts across England. However, the serious concerns about care at South East Coast Ambulance Service need to be addressed quickly, which is why we are putting the trust in special measures.

“We will continue working with the trust to bring about rapid improvement to its urgent and emergency care services, so that when they are ill or in need of immediate care, patients in the South East can be assured that they are getting the quality care they expect.”

The CQC’s full report released today (Thursday September 29) rated the trust as ‘inadequate’ overall, but ‘good’ for caring in its major categories, and follows a warning notice issued to SECAmb back in July.

Both SECAmb’s chairman and chief executive resigned earlier this year after the fallout from a controversial pilot which delaying dispatching ambulances to some patients in the winter of 2014/15, while the trust also admitted in June that it was ‘failing to reach some patients as quickly as it would like’ due to rising demand, delays at hospitals, and staff shortages.

Sir Mike Richards, chief inspector of hospitals at the CQC, said: “South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust has been through a period of significant upheaval following changes in its senior leadership.

“It is to the credit of the staff that they have continued to provide a vital service to the people of Kent, Surrey and Sussex – dealing with almost a million emergency calls a year alone. Throughout our inspection we heard how staff were giving their best, treating patients kindly, with dignity, care and compassion.

“It was apparent that the leadership had not been supporting staff to do their jobs effectively. Staff told us there was a culture of harassment and bullying. We found in many cases there weren’t enough properly trained staff, or that the proper equipment wasn’t available to them.

“At the time of the inspection, we found evidence that senior executives were not always pulling in the same direction. However, improvements are being formulated by an experienced interim chair and the executive has been recently strengthened by new appointments.

“While we have significant concerns about the performance of the ambulance service, I want to provide some reassurance. Once care arrives, it is of a good standard – with dedicated and caring call handlers, ambulance crew, paramedics and other frontline staff working hard to ensure this.

“Secondly, the trust are taking urgent steps needed and some improvements have already been made - to ensure that everyone who relies on this service receives excellent, timely care.”

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