Watchdog fails ambulance trust over Norfolk and Suffolk response times

Ambulance response times in Norfolk have been strongly criticised by the health service watchdog.

The Care Quality Commission told East of England Ambulance Trust (EEAST) today that it must take action on response times because they impact the ‘care and welfare of people who use services’.

It was the only one of five criteria the trust was judged on on which it failed inspection, but the CQC points out that the trust also failed on it in March 2012 and had deteriorated since then, particularly in Norfolk.

The commission’s report says: “There also continued to be a significant inequity of service between rural and urban areas of the trust. For example, although the trust achieved its response times in places like Luton and Peterborough, it regularly failed to meet them in Norfolk and Suffolk.”

It adds: “It was also evident that the performance against [response] standards had deteriorated by approximately four per cent in Norfolk since September 2012. Managers were unable to give us sufficient explanation as to why performance had fallen.”

The CQC said before it carried out the inspection at the end of January it had complaints from the trust’s own first responders, as well as patients, who had been kept waiting for an ambulance.

It says staff at Norwich Health and Emergency Operations Centre told them that while the trust’s figures showed calls were up nine per cent over 2012, there were ‘not enough extra staff to match the increase in calls’ and continued handover delays at hospitals.

However, the CQC emphasises praise received for the work of ambulance staff on the ground.

On Norfolk and Suffolk’s problems, a trust spokesman said: “The rural areas such as Norfolk and Suffolk present their own unique challenges but the fact that we’re devolving powers to a local level and making rotas more effective ensures that we do not have a one-size fits all approach across the region.

Andrew Morgan, EEAST’s interim chief executive said: “I recognise that our performance and response times are simply not good enough. That is why we are recruiting more front line staff and seeking to put more ambulances out on the road, whilst also seeking to reduce the delays we experience in handing over patients at hospitals. We are also carrying out a clinical capacity review to better understand what resources are required to meet patient demand.

“Whilst we are funded to hit a regional target, performance in more rural areas also needs to improve and we are currently in talks with our commissioners to address this issue.”

He said they are ‘engaging with staff’ and learned from other ambulance trusts.

He promised: “We will start showing steady improvements over the coming months.”

The CQC report can be read at www.cqc.org.uk

EEAST’s performance figures are at its website