Scale of ‘severe harm’ caused by ambulance delays revealed

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Ambulance delays “severely harmed” three people over the winter when they had to wait too long for care following 999 calls.

During this period, there were 47 people identified whose cases were potential issues, 22 of which were declared “serious incidents”.

An independent analysis of the 22 cases, which was conducted by senior independent clinicians from local NHS services, concluded that, while no patient died directly as a result of ambulance delays during the winter, 15 people in the east of England were caused a degree of harm. Three people were caused “severe” harm.

The findings were discussed at the EEAST board meeting yesterday (May 23). The trust says more needs to be done to address a gap between demand and capacity, as well as delays in hospital handovers.

Tom Davis, acting medical director at EEAST, paid tribute to hard working staff, but conceded the trust needed to improve.

Dr Davis said: “I would first like to apologise to the families and the patients of the 22 cases that have been investigated. While independent analysis of harm has concluded that no patients died because of ambulance delays – three patients were caused severe harm, and that is not acceptable. That is three too many.

“Individual clinicians continue to give exceptional care, but as an organisation, we must improve patient outcomes for next winter. We must ensure no harm comes to patients.”

Dr Davis said that, as well as the three patients who were caused “severe harm” due to ambulance delays following a 999 call, a further four experienced “moderate harm”, and another eight experienced “low harm”. He said delays in ambulance hand overs was something that the trust needed to address. He also said there is a gap between capacity and demand, which needed to be tackled.

“I believe our staff, under extreme pressure, deliver high quality care,” said Dr Davis. “But, as an organisation, we need to do better.”

Tracy Nicholls, acting director of clinical quality and improvement at EEAST, welcomed the report, and said it gave the trust an opportunity to improve.

She said: “We are a public organisation, and we need to be held to account. I think we have to learn from this.”

Kevin Brown, director of service delivery at EEAST, expressed his sadness at the situation, and said the trust had to make sure it could offer a safe service in the coming years.

“We will focus on making sure we are safe going into the next winter,” he said. “We will continue to learn. Lots of work is taking place.”

Associate non-executive director Andrew Egerton-Smith said the extent of harm was “very regrettable”, but said staff were incredibly caring. He said he hoped public confidence in the trust would recover.