Ailing ambulance service placed under special measures after major failings

Ambulance service chief announces departure days after report released
Daren Mochrie

The ambulance service that covers both Tunbridge Wells and Tonbridge has been placed under special ­measures by England’s Chief ­Inspector of Hospitals after it was damned as ‘inadequate’ during a recent inspection.

It is the latest setback for the South East Coast Ambulance Service ­(SECAMB), following allegations of staff bullying in July and the ­resignation of former chief executive Paul Sutton in May for misreporting call-handling performance.

Last week, the Care ­Quality ­Commission (CQC) outlined ­numerous ‘areas of concern’ which had led to the ambulance service being rated inadequate overall.

They found the trust was failing to meet national performance targets for response times and had low ­staffing levels, a ‘lack of ­strategic ­leadership’ and inadequately ­maintained equipment.

In addition, the report described safeguarding arrangements within the trust as ‘weak’ – made worse by a lack of accountability – and stated that the development of practice ­outside of national guidelines had ‘put ­people using the service at risk’.

Areas of good practice ­highlighted were the support of patients to ­manage their own health, close co-operation with other healthcare providers and provision of training to ‘enhance’ the role of paramedics.

In a statement released by the CQC, Professor Sir Mike ­Richards, the Chief ­Inspector of Hospitals, ­acknowledged the ‘significant upheaval’ at the service following changes in its senior leadership.

He praised the staff for ‘giving their best’ and treating patients ­kindly, with dignity, care and ­compassion while dealing with almost a million emergency calls a year.

But he added: “It was apparent that the 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.

“At the time of the inspection, we found evidence that senior ­executives were not always pulling in the same direction. However, ­improvements are being formulated by an experienced interim chair and the executive has been recently strengthened by new appointments.”

Sir Mike said he wished to provide ‘reassurance’, stating that once care arrives it is ‘of a good standard’ and adding that measures were now under way to address the concerns.

SECAMB said the organisation is ‘committed’ to improving the ­quality of its service but the Acting Chief ­Executive, Geraint Davies, ­acknowledged there had been ­failings at the service.

He said: “While we are pleased that the dedication and care of our staff is highlighted as ‘good’ in this report, we are sorry that we have not met the standards expected in a number of other areas.

“We are determined to implement the changes required to restore confidence in our service.”

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