East of England Ambulance' 'incompetence' criticised

Ambulances The report was ordered to examine the reasons for the trust's poor performance

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The East of England Ambulance Service (EEAS) has come in for scathing criticism in a parliamentary debate.

MPs in the eastern region told Health Minister Anna Soubry of their concerns about trust managers, although frontline crews were praised.

Priti Patel, Conservative MP for Witham, said: "Scandal and incompetence [at the EEAS] has put lives at risk."

EEAS said the capability of the trust's board members was under review and it had started to improve response times.

Earlier in the month, an independent report said the board's leadership "just isn't strong enough" to take the service forward.

Dr Anthony Marsh, chief executive of the West Midlands Ambulance Service, was commissioned to write the report because of concerns over the trust's performance.

In March, the trust was ordered to improve by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) after failing to meet its care and welfare target.

Dr Marsh's report said there was a lack of accountability throughout the organisation and made 24 specific recommendations, including cutting back on management to pay for more emergency crews.

'Worrying culture'

In the Westminster Hall debate, Ms Patel said: "The board has failed to demonstrate the high level of expertise, the skills and the devotion that is required in the boardroom."

Therese Coffey, Conservative MP for Suffolk Coastal, said: "Until these non-executive directors go we will not have confidence in the leadership of the trust to make a difference."

Ms Soubry said it was not her job to call for resignations, but said she was concerned that this organisation seemed to be another example of a "worrying culture in the NHS".

"This 'mates' culture - where the priority is to protect your mates, systems and procedures - is opposed to the absolute priority to protect your patient," she said.

A spokesman for the EEAS said new chairman Dr Geoff Harris, who has been in post for a month, was 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," he said.

"The trust published its turnaround plan in April. 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."

The EEAS covers Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk and Suffolk.

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