Ambulance service hitting targets for most severe calls but response for less serious categories ‘not good enough’

South East Coast Ambulance Service scored an improved CQC rating in 2018 but remains in special measures
South East Coast Ambulance Service scored an improved CQC rating in 2018 but remains in special measures

South East Coast Ambulance Service (SECAmb) hopes to come out of special measures within a year, county councillors have been told.

The trust, which covers Sussex, Surrey, Kent and parts of Hampshire, was placed in special measures in 2016 after an inspection by the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

Reasons for the rating included bullying and delayed response times which inspectors said put patients at risk. The trust said at the time that it was committed to improving the quality of its service.

It was still rated inadequate in 2017, before being upgraded to requires improvement in 2018, with the CQC recognising that ‘significant progress’ had been made.

At a meeting of West Sussex County Council’s health and adult social care select committee (HASC) on Wednesday January 16, members received an update from SECAmb and examined a report into the work being done.

When it came to response times, the committee was told that the trust was ‘well within the national averages’ for the most severe emergency calls, such as cardiac arrests and traffic accidents.

But Jane Phoenix, SECAmb’s deputy director of strategy and business development, acknowledged that response times for the less serious categories, such as fractures, falls and diabetic problems was ‘not good enough’.

Ms Phoenix said of the trust’s improvement plans: “It’s obviously a journey. We had significant issues regarding safeguarding, we had significant issues around medicines management.

“We’ve gone from having significant concerns about some of those things to being an exemplar in the ambulance service, particularly with medicines management.”

Discussing the list of ‘must dos’ and ‘should dos’ laid out by the CQC, she added: “It’s our ambition to ensure that we aim to get out of special measures within the next year.”

She also described some of the improvement initiatives set up, such as a mental health ambulance street triage programme, which is being tested in Crawley and Horsham and aims to free-up ambulances for more severe calls.

In addition, from February six mental health nurses will be placed in emergency operation centres to help deal appropriately with mental health calls.

The trust has also formed an alliance with West Midlands and South Western Ambulance Services to allow them to share best practice and save money by buying supplies, equipment and fuel together.

Councillors were assured that the alliance was not a merger and did not mean SECAmb ambulances would be sent to incidents in the Midlands and South West and vice versa.

Dr James Walsh (Lib Dem, Littlehampton East) said: “It’s encouraging to see there’s some improvement but there is still a long, long way to go.”

Andy Cashman, regional operations manager said: “This is ongoing work both within the trust and with our partners. It’s not a race to the finish.”