Improving ambulance service ‘still has a way to go’

SECAmb crew
SECAmb crew

Improvements at the South East Coast Ambulance Service have been praised but councillors have been told there is still ‘a significant way to go’.

SECAmb had been in special measures for almost three years, before its ‘journey of improvement’ saw it rated good by the Care Quality Commission in the summer.

Members of West Sussex County Council’s health and adult social care select committee were given an update on the work being carried out and the areas which still needed attention.

Joe Garcia, executive director of operations at SECAmb, said he was ‘very, very proud of the achievements of all colleagues in the trust who have got us to this particular point, but it’s been a big journey of improvement’.

Mr Garcia added: “While we are progressing well, we do have a significant way to go. That is recognised and we’ve put an awful lot of measures into place to improve our performance to the communities that we serve across the region.”

One of the major tasks faced by service leaders was to improve the morale of staff, which the meeting heard had been ‘very poor’ in the past.

Philip Astle, who took over as SECAmb’s chief executive in September, said he had been ‘testing the pulse’ of the staff, visiting one-third of the stations so far.

He added: “I’ve been absolutely delight by two things. Firstly the morale in the places where I was led to believe that it would be challenging actually isn’t as bad as I expected it to be.”

The second thing which delighted Mr Astle was the ongoing focus on staff wellbeing, which has seen fewer shifts over-run and fewer staff missing meal breaks.

He said: “I’ve had reflected back to me that it’s so much better than it was three years ago.”

As for the issue of bullying, Mr Astle acknowledged the situation was ‘not good enough’ and that SECAmb was still too slow at resolving complaints from staff.

He told the meeting this was being worked on, adding that too many staff still thought a formal grievance was the first step to take when they had a complaint, rather than trying to talk things through.

When it came to helping patients, members of the committee said they were a ‘little bit worried’ about the time it took to drop people off at hospital and get back on the road.

This was particularly bad at St Richard’s, in Chichester, which members were told had ‘struggled to retain improvements’ when it came to turnaround time.

Committee chairman Bryan Turner said: “We would like to see a written update on the work being done at St Richard’s Hospital to improve the handover delays, when a report is ready.”

Highlights of the Care Quality Commission’s last report were the outstanding ratings given to emergency and urgent care and the way operations were led in A&E and the ambulance control room.

Mr Turner told Mr Astle: “We’re really pleased you’ve reached where you are. If you are well-led more progress will come.”