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Bodily fluids found on equipment used by independent ambulance service in East of England

PUBLISHED: 18:35 27 April 2017 | UPDATED: 18:43 27 April 2017

Stock image: Picture: RUI VIEIRA/PA WIRE

Stock image: Picture: RUI VIEIRA/PA WIRE

An independent ambulance service used in the region has suspended offering urgent care after it was hit with a long list of issues by health inspectors, including finding bodily fluids on equipment.

It comes as the Care Quality Commission (CQC) issued a warning to all independent ambulance services over safety, after its inspections to date found significant concerns.

And the union representing East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust (EEAST) staff encouraged a move away from the use of private providers.

A CQC report released last week listed 14 concerns about Thames Ambulance Service including “widespread issues with infection prevention, cleanliness and hygiene [...] including bodily fluids on equipment”.

Thames was one of eight independent services used by East of England Ambulance Trust (EEAST) over the three-year period of 2012/13 to 2015/16, and was the second most-used provider with 28,310 assignments. Over those four financial years, independent ambulance services were used by EEAST 134,437 times. Other problems raised by the CQC about Thames included the use of out-of-date equipment and reuse of single-use items.

Thames was used less by EEAST in recent years, and was the fourth most-used provider in 2015/16.

However, concerns were also raised at Private Ambulance Service (PAS), the most-used provider for 2015/16.

Independent ambulance providers (including charities and private businesses) mainly offer specialist patient transport services and non-emergency responses, often on behalf of the NHS. In addition, some provide 999 emergency responses during peak demand.

But in January, it was found between November 2015 and October 2016 EEAST’s spending on this has rocketed from around £341,000 per month to £1.4m.

However figures for the same 12 months showed no improvement in Red 1 calls and only a marginal improvement in Red 2. Red 1 and Red 2 calls feature the most seriously ill and injured patients – all ambulance trusts are expected to reach these in eight minutes or less in 75pc of cases.

An EEAST spokesman said: “We’ve got some immense efforts going into recruiting more people to patient-facing roles so that our use decreases further wherever possible.”

The CQC has carried out 70 comprehensive inspections of independent ambulance services since April 2015, which covers around a fifth of those registered.

From many of these inspections, CQC has identified common concerns around poor medicines management, cleanliness and infection control practices and a lack of appropriate recruitment checks.

The CQC has published 39 reports on these inspections to date. Within these, the CQC has taken enforcement action and issued ‘requirement notices’ to 25 different providers, ordering them to improve. This includes two cancellations.

In a letter sent to all independent ambulance providers in England, the CQC highlighted its emerging concerns and reminded providers of their commitment to provide safe and effective care. They also warned those that have not been inspected yet, that they will be scrutinised in the same level of detail.

A spokesman from EEAST said they were not currently using Thames or PAS. He added: “We use private ambulance services as a flexible resource to meet levels of high demand. We have experienced a decrease in demand over the last few months and continue to increase our own front-line staffing, which has enabled us to reduce our usage of private ambulance services.”

But Fraer Stevenson, Unison’s branch secretary for the trust, said independent providers did not provide the same level of service. She said: “Unison would like to see commissioners and the ambulance service working together to invest in the retention and recruitment of NHS staff and move away from reliance on private providers. They should not be a way to provide services more cheaply, at the cost of patient safety or care.”

Thames declined to comment. PAS did not reply to the request.

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