SECAmb still failing to answer 111 calls effectively and on time, CQC finds

The troubled South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS FT (SECAmb) is still failing to answer 111 calls properly after it was found that the trust was deliberately downgrading them, according to the CQC.

Following its latest inspection, the regulator has issued a warning notice to SECAmb, finding that the trust did not always respond to 111 calls in an effective and timely manner or deploy appropriate amounts of staff.

The CQC also said that the trust’s governance arrangements for assessing, monitoring and improving the quality of services were not operating effectively.

Professor Sir Mike Richards, the CQC’s chief inspector of hospitals, said: “People who rely on SECAmb are entitled to an ambulance service that is consistently safe, effective and responsive to their needs.

“On the evidence of our inspection we have found that patients were not receiving the quality of care that they are entitled to expect, or within the timescales required.

“We have told the trust that it must improve and treat patients in a timely manner with care, dignity and respect.”

The CQC also raised concerns about SECAmb’s systems for ensuring equipment was properly maintained and secured, safeguarding patients from abuse, ensuring medicine was managed safely and effectively.

SECAmb’s chair resigned and its chief executive went on voluntary leave after it was found that the trust had secretly introduced a pilot protocol to deliberately delay answering calls that were transferred from 999 to 111 in order to meet performance targets.

Acting chief executive Geraint Davies and interim chair Sir Peter Dixon both apologised for the CQC’s findings.

Davies said: “The trust is sorry for not providing the service that the communities we serve should expect and deserve.

“Following the inspection, we have been working hard to address the issues raised and will continue to do so over the coming months.  My aim is to restore public confidence and faith in our service.”

Dixon added that there have been some serious failings which will need to be addressed quickly.

The CQC gave SECAmb until 10 September to address its concerns.

Actions the trust is required to take include increasing staff recruitment in 111 and establishing a new patient safety and quality director role.

4.45pm UPDATE

Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, which has previously called for SECAmb to apologise for downgrading the 111 calls, said: "The CQC has given the organisation until September, but this is a long time for an organisation who has already had a year to get their affairs in order. The issues they are failing on are all very serious and could risk patient safety. Unfortunately, temporary leadership is not providing the much needed direction and is sending out the wrong message.

“The 111 service is an important service and it is essential that patients and the public have confidence and trust in these services.  Sadly, staff shortages are a national problem and the issue needs to be addressed immediately as it risks compromising patient care.”

Health peer Lord Prior recently called for "significant improvements" to be made to the service after it was criticised for a lack of medical knowledge among call centre staff.

(Image c. SECAmb)

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