South East Coast Ambulance Service 'to be put in special measures'

South East Coast Ambulance Image copyright SECAMB
Image caption Secamb staff were heard to be "tired and exhausted"

An NHS ambulance trust is to be placed in special measures after being rated inadequate by England's chief inspector of hospitals.

South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (Secamb) was inspected by the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

Reasons for the rating included bullying, delayed response times and putting patients at risk.

The trust said it was committed to improving the quality of its service.

Secamb, which covers Kent, Surrey, Sussex and North East Hampshire, said it already had a recovery plan in place and had taken action across a number of areas to address concerns.

Acting chief executive, Geraint Davies, said: "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."

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The chief inspector of hospitals, Professor Sir Mike Richards, recommended the trust be put into special measures in light of the findings of the report.

NHS Improvement confirmed that it would go ahead with the chief inspector's advice.

It added: "NHS Improvement will soon appoint an improvement director to provide the trust with additional expert advice and support on the ground to improve the quality of its care, and will consider what further action might be needed to address the CQC's concerns."

Areas of concern:

  • The systems in place to ensure enough staff are deployed appropriately were not effective
  • NHS 111 calls were not always responded to in a timely and effective manner
  • Processes to ensure that equipment was properly maintained and secured were not adequate
  • Safeguarding arrangements within the trust were weak
  • The systems in place were not operated safely and effectively. The trust had allowed staff to develop practice outside national guidelines which put people using the service at risk
  • Governance arrangements including systems to assess, monitor and improve the quality and safety of the services were not operated effectively

Professor Richards praised employees of the trust for "giving their best" and "treating patients kindly".

However, he said "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," he said.

'Caring call handlers'

Despite this, he said that once care arrived it was "of a good standard - with dedicated and caring call handlers, ambulance crew, paramedics and other frontline staff working hard to ensure this."

"I am recommending that South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust be placed into special measures to ensure the service gets the support it needs to improve," he said.

Although rated inadequate overall, the trust was rated good for caring in all parts of its service.

The inspection team also highlighted areas of good practice when it came to training and support for paramedics, and supporting patients to use non-emergency services, such as their GP when appropriate.

Gary Palmer, of the GMB union, called on Mr Davies to resign.

"We very much regret the service is going to have to go into special measures, but the trust members who've caused this have to take that full responsibility... and Geraint has to go," he told the BBC.

Secamb is not the first ambulance trust to be put into special measures. In 2015 London's Ambulance Service (LAS) NHS Trust suffered the same fate following an inspection.

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