Sussex’s ambulance service has asked the NHS and health regulators if it could effectively go into ‘voluntary special measures’, its chairman revealed yesterday.
Both the previous chief executive and chairman of South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SECAmb) both resigned over a controversial pilot which led to the delay of some ambulance response times during the winter of 2014/15.
Meanwhile after a recent inspection of the service by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) in May, health regulators flagged up a number of issues warranting ‘immediate further investigation and attention from the trust’.
Last month SECAmb admitted it was ‘failing to reach some patients as quickly as it would like’ in the face of rising demand, delays at hospitals, and staff shortages.
Sir Peter Dixon, interim chairman at SECAmb, answered questions on the ‘Unified Recovery Plan’ (URP) from members of West Sussex County Council’s Health and Adult Social Care Select Committee yesterday (Thursday June 30).
Brenda Smith (Lab, Langley Green and West Green) said: “My heart has gone deeper and deeper. It’s an absolutely dreadful indictment of the service which people in this county think of as a lifeline.”
She added: “I’m absolutely shocked and appalled there is not more apparent urgency and desire to get things sorted out.”
Mrs Smith described seeing five or six ambulances queueing at a hospital in her area every time she went there.
She continued: “Something is broken completely, not creaking it’s broken.”
Geraint Davies, acting chief executive at SECAmb, explained that delays to handover times at hospitals was ‘hugely challenging’ as they had seen a 60 per cent increase over the last two years.
Mrs Smith replied: “Why has action not taken place earlier?”
Sir Peter explained that there had been governance failures running through SECAmb, and his answer was not complacent about the scale of the issues.
He added: “It recognises the scale of the problem and lack of resources to deal with it.
“I’m not lacking any sense of urgency, we need to sort this out.”
The URP describes 2015/16 as the ‘most challenging year for SECAmb since its formation’ as the trust had ‘failed’ to deliver expected operational performance and clinical effectiveness.
One of the factors for SECAmb’s performance was the number of delays to hospital handovers had increased significantly, with almost 46,000 ambulance hours lost in 2015/16, and 7,000 hours lost in March 2016 alone.
Sir Peter said: “None of the stuff in the CQC report surprised me. I was expecting there would be a number of areas where we had fallen short.”
He added: “We are going to be working with the CQC to put it right. None of this is going to be a quick fix.”
He explained that they lacked some key people right at the top of the organisation and in conversations with the CQC and NHS England they had suggested putting the trust into ‘voluntary special measures’ as this could lead to more money and support for SECAmb. He said the two organisations were ‘thinking about it’.
Asked about problems with staff recruitment, Sir Peter said he had seen no evidence that people did not want to work for SECAmb after the CQC’s initial letter explained that staff had complained of a ‘culture of bullying and harassment’.
He said there was a need for a change of culture throughout the organisation and they had appointed an external advisor to the trust’s board to lead in that area.
He added: “When you have had strong leadership in the trust and it’s removed a lot of things bubble to the surface.”
Peter Evans (Con, East Preston and Ferring) said: “Thank you for being refreshingly frank and honest in the statements you have made.”
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