Ambulance trust denies claims over NHS 111 scheme

An ambulance trust has refuted claims reported by the Daily Telegraph that a scheme to deliberately delay ambulances after people called the NHS 111 helpline is linked to the deaths of eleven people.

South East Coast Ambulance Service (SECAmb), which covers for Kent, Surrey and Sussex, said a leaked report seen by the Telegraph is the wrong one, as it is only assessing only decision-making and governance - not the impact of the scheme on patients.

The Telegraph is also reporting that Paul Sutton, chief executive of the trust, ‘approved’ a scheme which saw 20,000 emergency calls reassessed – providing an extra ten minutes for assessments before ambulances were dispatched to some urgent calls.

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It said the trust ordered non-urgent or green calls to be placed in queues so the service could attend to red calls.

The Telegraph states Paul Sutton, chief executive of SECAmb, ‘approved’ plans for the queue to be applied to the urgent calls, so the trust could ‘meet performance targets’ – which include 75 per cent of urgent calls being seen within eight minutes.

However South East Coast Ambulance Service has refuted the accusations by the national newspaper, and it was still waiting for a final report from Monitor, which regulates foundation trusts.

The trust said the report seen by the Telegraph was in fact commissioned by Deloitte, looking at decision making and governance around the scheme.

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A spokesman for SECAmb said: “South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust has refuted claims made in today’s [February 29] Daily Telegraph following its article based on a leaked, draft report.

“The article refers to a report undertaken by Deloitte which was not looking at patient impact but at the decision-making and governance around the implementation of the pilot, and what recommendations can be made for SECAmb’s governance processes in light of this.

“As we have stated previously, the separate, independent, clinically-led patient impact review, being carried out as part of the Monitor undertakings, is currently underway and is yet to be concluded.

“Until it does it is inaccurate and completely misleading to attribute or imply any harm or deaths to the pilot.

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“We will publish the findings of the patient impact review as soon as it is complete.

“However, in the preliminary work to date, no clear indications of patient harm have been identified.

“Indeed, the review has identified a number of seriously ill patients who received an improved response due to earlier clinical intervention as a consequence of the pilot.”

A report by NHS England released in November 2015, found approximately 20,000 calls were subject to deliberate delays.

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It also confirmed 25 patients were affected by the decision to delay care.

Call handlers and patients were reportedly not aware of the project, details of which were only revealed when a whistleblower contacted Swale Clinical Commissioning Group.

The Telegraph has reported the leaked report said: “There were a number of fundamental failings in governance at the trust which resulted in the implementation of a high risk and sensitive project without adequate clinical assessment or appraisal by the board, commissioners or the 111 service.

“The CEO made the ultimate decision to proceed with the pilot and played a critical leadership role throughout.”

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Mr Sutton has previously denied the scheme was a bid to meet performance targets.

At a meeting of West Sussex County Council’s Health and Adult Select Committee in December 2015, Dr James Walsh, vice chairman of HASC, questioned: “Whatever the motives and driving factors which were unknown to board members and outside your normal open and transparent procedures involving CCGs and ourselves, didn’t this actually amount to an attempt to fiddle the figures by giving yourself an extra ten minutes to appear to keep within targets?”

However Mr Sutton denied the claims and stated the scheme was implemented in response to patient safety concerns.

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