East of England Ambulance Trust getting better but 999 calls still concern

St Albans Ambulance Station

St Albans Ambulance Station - Credit: Archant

Ambulance services are on the road to improvement – but there are still problems in some areas particularly response times to life-threatening 999 calls.

An inspection by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) of the troubled East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST) which serves Herts and five other counties found that the trust had made “significant improvements in a number of areas”.

But CQC is still concerned about responses to 999 calls, large variations in response time performance across different regions of the trust and problems with getting people who had suffered a stroke to a specialist centre within 60 minutes.

Ambulance delays at hospitals, although they had improved in some areas, still did not meet the required level of performance and EEAST has been fined as a result.

An unannounced inspection of EEAST was carried out by CQC in January 2013 as a result of a number of complaints from people who had waited a long time for an ambulance to take them to hospital.

Staff had voiced their concerns about several issues including long waits on scene for back-up vehicles that could transport people to hospital and changes to staff rotas which had failed to address response times.

The Herts Advertiser had highlighted several stories about local people suffering long delays waiting for ambulances and a whistleblower said that the service had been hit by the closure of A&E departments in Herts, which had meant ambulances having to go further afield to take patients to the two main hospitals, Watford General and the Lister in Stevenage.

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In the current report, CQC say that action is still needed on staffing as well as the care and welfare of people who use services but EEAST had met standards for other issues such as safety, availability and suitability of equipment and complaints.

CQC inspectors found overall satisfaction with the care and treatment received from ambulance crews and the good relationship with A&E departments.

Fire chiefs in four of the counties covered by EEAST voiced their concerns about often having to wait excessively long times for ambulance crews, sometimes when it involved cutting people out of cars following road accidents.

Staff sickness absence rates had reduced and complaints relating to ambulance delays had decreased as well as the number of serious incidents experienced by the trust.

Although work still needs to be done on key issues such as response times to 999 calls and the transportation of stroke victims, CQC has decided the trust is taking “reasonable steps to address the breaches in regulations” and would not be taking further enforcement action currently.

But it has told EEAST that it must report back by mid February setting out the actions they intend to take to rectify the highlighted issues.