The health regulator Monitor has criticised ambulance bosses in a move that could greatly influence the future of the emergency service.
It has been suggested that managers of the ambulance service could be forced to resign their positions after systemic failings over the handling of NHS 111 calls.
Monitor specifically criticised the South East Coast Ambulance Service over a project which increased how long some patients were forced to wait for ambulances.
The organisation was guilty of transferring some NHS 111 calls to the 999 emergency system, in order to give the staff a further 10 minutes of time to respond to calls.
This project was implemented as a response to massive pressures that the ambulance service faced during the winter last year.
Extra time was given to calls which were placed in the second most serious category.
Monitor indicated that there had been a clear failure of management processes, and the health regulator has intervened in order to rectify the situation.
The Health regulator added in a statement that there are major concerns about the way that the trust is being run, and particularly the decision-making process related to ambulances.
Monitor also said it has reasonable grounds to suspect the trust is in breach of its license to provide NHS services.
With an investigation into the matter imminent, the health regulator has indicated that it will commission a review into the way that the project was handled, and more widely into the way that the trust makes decisions.
Paul Streat, Monitor’s regional director, commented that the project was fundamentally flawed and is a massive cause of concern for the health regulator.
“Over the winter, there were significant demands on the NHS and it is understandable that trusts want to explore better ways of delivering the best possible care. But this project was poorly managed from the start, done without the proper authorisation and without enough thought given to how it might affect patients. We have asked the trust to review the action it took to make sure there was no harm to patients, and look again at the way decisions are taken to prevent something like this happening again.”
Paul Sutton, chief executive of the South East Coast Ambulance Service, defended the ethos behind the procedure, but also acknowledge that the health regulator’s concerns were reasonable.
“The process was undertaken to ensure that the right response was provided to patients and that we were able to respond promptly to the most seriously ill patients. However we recognise that it was not well implemented and we did not use our own corporate governance processes correctly. These are serious findings,” Sutton stated.
In addition, Sutton indicated that the organisation had already begun to implement new measures in order to ensure that there was no repeat of the incident.
“We have already begun to take steps to address Monitor’s concerns and as part of this process, independent reviews will assess how decisions are made within the Trust, governance processes and our approach to patient safety. As a Trust, we remain extremely proud of the high quality and compassionate clinical services that SECAmb provides to our patients,” Sutton indicated.