Over the last few months there have been several reports highlighting apparent failings by the East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST), all with the same tone of question: Are patients being put at risk by our region’s ambulance service?
Throughout what has been a battle of rhetoric between politicians, health officials and the media, there has been an overwhelming focus on the winter pressures affecting the NHS.
In light of whistle blowing from within the trust and one of his own constituents dying, the MP for North Norfolk, Norman Lamb, has now called for an independent governance review into the trust to see if they are making best use of the resources available.
Lamb, who was formerly a health minister, feels his constituents have been let down by the “emergency care system failing, not just the ambulance service, but also the acute services and the relationship between the two.”
EEAST maintain they have faced unprecedented pressure over winter, including 55,000 calls to the service within a 15-day period. In addition to this, acute hospitals have been cancelling routine operations in order to cope with increased demand, although there have been reports of ambulances waiting outside accident and emergency departments in excess of six hours.
The debate was further fuelled by Norwich South MP Clive Lewis, who spoke critically in parliament about the service alongside Norman Lamb. The two MPs explained that “senior officials” within EEAST had told them both that since December, there were between 80 and 120 incidents of serious harm, potentially leading to between 20 and 81 deaths.
EEAST responded to these allegations by stating they have raised 22 ‘serious’ incidents to their commissioners. The EEAST also refute the figures quoted by Lewis and Lamb.
The interim medical director for EEAST, Dr. Tom Davis, suggested: “Many more […] will have been looked at whilst raising those reports.”
Dr. Davis added that an investigation will be held into who released these figures outside of the organisation and that the ‘whistle blowers’ have breached the trust’s information governance procedures.
However, Lamb has questioned Dr. Davis’ priorities, asking why EEAST seem to be fixated on investigating whistle blowers “with a threat hanging over them,” and not the concerns that have been raised. Lamb added that the trust should encourage whistle blowers to speak out, and defended the figures he quoted in his parliament address.
Dr Davis defended the trust’s decision not to bring in additional ambulances to deal with winter pressures as EEAST believed they had “appropriate resources to meet demand, [however] additional pressures meant that these resources were waiting at the doors of hospitals across the region.”
Lamb responded to this by suggesting that winter pressures should not come as a surprise because they are experienced year on year.
In a statement released following the ‘Risk Summit’, EEAST appeared to welcome Lamb’s feedback. A spokesperson said: “The summit identified a number of actions that were needed to secure greater resilience for regional ambulance services. Some of these actions are for EEAST and some actions are for the wider NHS.”
At the time of publication, EEAST had not responded to Concrete’s request for comment.