East of England Ambulance Trust: Calls for resignations

East of England ambulance
Image caption Robert Halfon MP said East of England Ambulance Service staff were "lions being led by donkeys"

They won't let it drop. MP after MP from the East stood up during a parliamentary debate to condemn the East of England Ambulance Service and to call for mass resignations from the management board.

"Scandal and incompetence has put lives at risk," declared Priti Patel, conservative MP for Witham, as she opened the debate that she'd called into the failings of the service.

"The staff work in difficult conditions, all made worse by the failure of the trust's board... they have been badly let down," she said.

Her colleagues agreed: "The staff are lions being led by donkeys," was the verdict of Richard Bacon (South Norfolk).

"This crisis has not been brought about by a lack of resources," claimed Henry Bellingham (North West Norfolk). "It is a lack of vision, strategic direction and leadership."

"Until that board goes we will not have any trust in their leadership," stated Therese Coffey (Suffolk Coastal).

The debate followed a critical report from the head of the West Midlands Ambulance service, Anthony Marsh, into the way the service in the East was being run.

That report followed almost two years of criticism over poor response times, particularly in rural areas.

'Warning signs' missed

MPs competed with each other to come up with the most shocking example of failure.

Peter Aldous (Waveney) had a constituent who was knocked off his bike and had to wait an hour and a half for an ambulance.

Priti Patel said she knew of a number of cases of people who had waited for more than two hours.

But Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) trumped them all with stories of elderly people being "kept waiting for up to eight hours often in significant pain before the ambulance gets to them".

Priti Patel named five non-executive directors whom, she said, should be dismissed. She added that it was "deeply alarming and thoroughly disgraceful that they were still in post".

What particularly angers MPs is that despite all the criticism, there have, at the time of writing, been very few resignations from the trust board; so far just one of the five has stepped down.

"They should have seen the warning signs. They should have reassessed changes to staffing rotas and brought in new front-line staff," she argued.

"They should have re-examined how they prioritise calls. They should have altered the allocation of resources to put more ambulances on the road. Finally, they should have got a grip on the trust's growing deficit," she argued.

Richard Bacon (South Norfolk) said that as a member of the Public Accounts Committee, he had spent 12 years studying "slow-motion disasters in various areas of government" but he had "rarely read words as damning as those" in the Anthony Marsh report.

Robert Halfon suggested that the trust board should be sued for negligence.

Unacceptable behaviour

The health minister Anna Soubry made it very clear where she stood on the issue, saying: "It is for those... who have come under criticism, to examine their own role and their own conscience and act accordingly."

The trust's performance figures, she said, were "simply unacceptable" and its management's behaviour was symptomatic of a worrying culture within some parts of the NHS.

"That is a mates culture," she said. "Where people's priority is to protect their mates, systems and procedures, as opposed to what should be the absolute priority for somebody in the NHS, which is to protect the patient - not their friends and the structures but the patient."

The ambulance trust says its new interim chairman is reviewing the capability and capacity of the board and that there will be changes. It also says there are some early signs of improvement.

The message from this debate was that MPs and the health minister will be watching very closely.

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