An NHS report into a project by South East Coast Ambulance Service (SECAmb) has confirmed 25 patients were affected by the decision to delay care – with seven ‘serious incidents’ and five deaths.
The ambulance trust has been investigated following a project known as R3/G5 – run between December 2014 to February 2015 – which allowed an extra ten minutes for assessments before ambulances were dispatched to some urgent calls.
While SECAmb said there is ‘no evidence’ patients were ‘negatively impacted’ during the process, a report by NHS England states: “Commissioners identified 25 incidents associated with the Red 3 project and 7 of these incidents appeared to meet the serious incident criteria.
“The trust itself had only identified 2 serious incidents.”
Approximately 20,000 calls were subject to deliberate delays and there was no assessment of whether the project would put lives at risk.
The report also said one patient, who died, waited 35 minutes for an ambulance, and care for an eight-day old baby was also delayed by nine minutes.
However, the clinical outcome of the baby was not documented by the trust.
The report said: “This delay due to the call partition project was ten minutes. This was a missed opportunity for the project to have improved a clinical outcome.”
The report reveals a whistle blower raised their concerns about the project with Swale Clinical Commissioning Group, which uncovered concerns about the system.
It has also been revealed no one knows who made the decision not to tell the public their call was held in a queue and not to tell NHS 111 that 999 were going to re-triage their calls and no one at the trust has admitted to implementing the scheme.
The report states: “No conclusions can be made as to the safety and efficacy of the project, which is disappointing as the learning may well have helped urgent care communities across England.”
A spokesman for NHS England South said: “The report makes clear that this project was initiated entirely within South East Coast Ambulance Service and resulted in changes to the handling of calls within the 999 service, not the 111 service.
“The regulator, Monitor, will oversee the next steps with the Trust.”
Paul Sutton, Chief Executive of SECAmb said patient safety is ‘fundamental’.
“As paramedics, we come to work to save lives and we would never do anything to deliberately put patients at risk,” he said.
“We understand the concerns that the public have and wish to reassure people that we work constantly to provide the safest service possible.
“We recognise that the proper processes were not fully followed in setting up the project and we do apologise for this. The decision was made during a time of high patient demand and the pilot was undertaken to ensure that we were able to respond promptly to the most seriously ill patients during this time.
“We fully accept the recommendations in the NHS England report and have already started to act upon them. For example, by improving how we manage necessary change within the Trust but we are also keen to also learn further lessons where possible.
“We will continue to work closely with Monitor and NHS England through the review process to establish all the facts. We are committed to being open and transparent in all our decision-making.”
Healthwatch West Sussex and East Sussex have both raised concerns over the findings of the report.
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