Error in ambulance response times

AN AMBULANCE chief today admitted “an error of judgement” after his trust failed to adhere to government guidelines on how to record its response times.

AN AMBULANCE chief today admitted “an error of judgement” after his trust failed to adhere to government guidelines on how to record its response times.

The East of England Ambulance NHS Trust has been rebuked following an independent investigation into the failure of the previous East Anglian Ambulance NHS Trust to stop amending its response times after the Department of Health (DoH) clearly stated the practice must end.

After publicly admitting its mistake, the trust today moved to reassure patients that actual response times were not affected by the failure and pledged that it was now adhering fully to government policy.

The problem occurred after the DoH issued guidance in February 2006 that ambulance services could no longer amend the category of emergency calls, even if a call originally classified as life-threatening later turned out not to be so.

In common with several other ambulance services, the East Anglian Ambulance NHS Trust had operated a policy that if an ambulance was dispatched to a life-threatening 999 call, or Category A call, and it was later justified on clinical grounds, the ambulance could be re-directed to a more serious case.

That allowed the trust to later list the response as a Category B, therefore improving crucial response times for Category A calls, which require the trust to respond within eight minutes 75per cent of the time.

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Despite the government ruling that calls originally designated as Category A had to stay as the highest-priority calls, the practice of downgrading some of the calls continued until mid-July last year.

The trust today said that the error happened at a time when its chief executive, Dr Chris Carney, was on sick leave and the trust was going through the complex merger to form the East of England service.

When the practice was uncovered an independent inquiry was launched involving ambulance trust officers from outside the region.

That inquiry found the trust “never set out with any intent to improve performance through call editing by unfair means”.

It said the merger process, combined with Dr Carney's illness created “a unique set of circumstances” which led to the error.

Today Dr Carney said: “I accept that it was an error of judgement not to ensure the correct procedures were followed during that time.”

Maria Ball, chair of the new East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust, said: “The Trust Board is happy with the conclusions drawn by the inquiry and considers the matter closed.

“We must now move forward to conclude a complex and difficult merger process and look to the future.”


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