NHS Medical Response Teams Across South of England ‘Putting Callers’ Safety at Risk’

NHS medical response teams across the south of England are “putting callers’ safety at risk”, according to Care Quality Commission (CQC) reports and investigations launched amidst concerns raised by staff and the public alike.

Patient Advice Service ‘Putting Callers’ Safety at Risk’

A June 2016 report issued by the CQC found the South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust’s (SWASFT) 111 patient advice service was “putting callers’ safety at risk”. Three CQC inspectors visited two 111 call centres serving Dorset, Devon and Cornwall through March, and concluded that the service “had been consistently failing to meet national standards”, and that “too many patients” were forced to abandon their calls for help after exceedingly long waiting periods.

NHS Staff ‘Stressed and Tired’

Their report also indicated that staff were stressed and tired, with many lacking sufficient medical knowledge to properly asses and direct callers’ enquiries, potentially contributing to instances of medical misdiagnosis. Overall it was found that in 6% of cases where callers described life-threatening conditions, it took more than 3 minutes to transfer them to the ambulance service. 14% of calls went unanswered altogether (compared with a national average of 8%); with a maximum call-back wait time recorded of 21 hours. Chief inspector of hospitals Professor Sir Mike Richards indicated that patients were at potential risk of delayed diagnosis and subsequent harm because the means used to assess the urgency of calls were simply “not good enough”. Chris Nelson; the joint branch secretary at Unison for South West Ambulance, labelled the report as “clearly very damning”, going on to state that:

“What we experience within NHS 111 is indicative, unfortunately, of the national problem with NHS 111, a service that is poorly understood, poorly commissioned, poorly funded and will always fail, despite the clear and obvious efforts that are being made by our members.”

Department of Health Highlights ‘Poor Leadership’

In the South East, the South East Coast Ambulance Trust (Secamb) now faces a full enquiry from the CQC after the department of Health highlighted “poor leadership” that had again “put patient safety at risk”. The enquiry follows allegations made last October that the trust, which serves Sussex, Surrey and Kent had delayed a number of calls to allow greater time for patient assessments.

SECAMB’s Chairman, Tony Thorne, resigned in March, and Chief Executive Paul Sutton also elected to leave the trust in May, fuelling concerns that all was not well within. In March, we reported on the failure of numerous IT projects within the NHS, and many medical response staff have since indicated that the computer-aided dispatch system (CAD) has consistently failed to answer calls quickly enough, and later provided ambulance crews with inaccurate, outdated map information. The preliminary findings of the CQC enquiry already support these indications, with ambulances consistently failing to arrive within the recommended 8-minute timeframe in serious cases that can include the likes of cardiac arrest.

‘Culture of Bullying and Harassment’ Within Trust

CQC inspectors have also drawn attention to what staff describe as a “culture of bullying and harassment” in the trust, with an alarming lack of accountability being shown by key officials. This in addition to a consistent failure to meet response targets, with call handlers failing to meet their five-second response target in as much as 1,000 instances per week.

‘Serious System Weaknesses’ Within the Institution

Acting Chief Executive for the trust Geraint Davies acknowledges “very serious concerns” including “serious system weaknesses” within the institution, emphasising that structure and procedures are currently under review.

What emerges from the CQC’s work in both these instances is that a potentially huge number of patients have been subject to substandard care and even harm, either at the hands of a 111 telephone consultant or an ambulance dispatch team.

If you or a family member have suffered delayed emergency medical response and this has caused harm, you may be entitled to clinical negligence compensation. Such cases are complex and it is recommended you seek legal advice from a specialist clinical negligence solicitor such as those at Blackwater Law.

Free initial advice on claiming clinical negligence compensation

Blackwater Law clinical negligence solicitors offer free initial advice in relation to all cases of possible medical negligence, including delays in emergency response, misdiagnosis and delayed diagnosis. Blackwater Law also operate all accepted clinical negligence claims on a no win, no fee basis.

Call Blackwater Law today and speak to a specialist medical negligence solicitor. The solicitor you speak with will quickly be able to tell you whether you may be entitled to claim compensation.

Blackwater Law clinical negligence solicitors in Essex and Suffolk represent clients across England and Wales in a wide range of medical negligence compensation claims.