North East Ambulance Service: Cover-up claims to be probed by government

  • Published
An NEAS ambulanceImage source, Thinkstock
Image caption,
A whistleblower has claimed errors were not passed on to local coroners

The government is to investigate claims an ambulance service covered up details of the deaths of patients following mistakes by paramedics.

It follows a Sunday Times report that North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) withheld information from coroners.

Labour's shadow health secretary Wes Streeting described the alleged cover-up as "a national disgrace".

Health minister Maria Caulfield said she was "horrified" and there would be a further investigation.

The newspaper reported that concerns were raised about more than 90 cases and whistleblowers believed NEAS had prevented full disclosure to relatives of people who died in 2018 and 2019.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Streeting asked why the regulator - the Care Quality Commission (CQC) - had failed to take action.

Ms Caulfield said that while both the NEAS and the CQC had both reviewed the allegations, further investigation was required.

The minister said non-disclosure agreements have "no place in the NHS", adding: "Reputation management is never more important than patient safety."

Image source, Conservative Party
Image caption,
Dehenna Davison said she had received a number of complaints about the service from her constituents

The Sunday Times reported that in some cases appropriate treatments had not been offered by paramedics, and the service failed to provide full information to coroners' officers.

Dehenna Davison, the MP for Bishop Auckland, has called on the government to intervene and address the service's "cultural and organisational failures".

In a letter, the Conservative MP said she had received "a number of complaints" from constituents.

This included the death in 2018 of Quinn Evie Beadle who, Ms Davison said "died after paramedics at the scene failed to offer her the immediate support she needed".

The letter read: "NEAS proceeded to obfuscate their failings, which included failure to administer essential life-saving techniques, and later the alteration of evidence that would prove that failure."

She asked Health Secretary Sadiq Javid to authorise an "immediate intervention from central government".

'There can be errors'

Dr Mathew Beattie, medical director of the NEAS Trust, said: "We always welcome external scrutiny, and we've had a significant amount of it over the past two years regarding our policy and procedures relating to our relationship with the coroner and releasing information.

"All of that has given us very positive feedback that we are doing the best we can do and providing the coroner with all the information that they require, so I don't personally feel we need a further intervention."

Regarding reports to the coroner, he said: "Often what happens is information comes into us in bits and pieces as investigations take place, reports are written information comes through externally or from different parts of the organisation.

"As all of that information becomes available we want to release it as quickly as possible to the coroner and occasionally there can be errors."

Image caption,
Dr Mathew Beattie said previous external scrutiny had provided "very positive feedback"

Addressing allegations that one report had been changed to make the service look better, he said: "When the report was reviewed by a clinical review panel, the outcome of the panel was different to the outcome of the original investigation.

"That should not have been changed and a separate report should have been written highlighting the differences.

"Unfortunately, a decision was made to change the original investigation report, and for that we are profoundly sorry."

In a statement, the CQC said its two investigations found "no evidence" NEAS had tried to withhold information from the coroner, and there was "no indication of any risk to patient safety".

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