The number of serious incidents involving ambulance crews – including severe delays in responding to 999 calls and poor patient care – has soared by 20 per cent in just two years, prompting warnings that the service has reached “breaking-point”.
Freedom of Information requests to the 10 ambulance trusts in England discovered that 448 incidents requiring an investigation were recorded in 2015-16, compared with 376 in 2013-14 - and the worst performing was the East of England Ambulance Trust.
More than half of the serious incidents (232) were complaints about delays in answering emergency calls and in delivering patients to hospital. A further 62 related to the ‘sub-optimal care’ of a patient and 28 concerned delays in diagnosis of a patient or failure to act on test results.
Norman Lamb, the former Liberal Democrat health minister, who obtained the figures, said: “The alarming rise in serious incidents adds to the growing evidence that ambulance services are at breaking-point due to chronic underfunding.”
He added: “This is a staggering record for a government which bangs on about patient safety, but still they do nothing to address the situation.
“Behind each of these figures is a person in need of emergency medical assistance. But they are being failed because of the government’s reckless refusal to give the NHS the funding it needs to cope with rising demand.”
“This is a staggering record for a government which bangs on about patient safety, but still they do nothing to address the situation.”Ex-health minister Norman Lamb
Mr Lamb said: “Patients are becoming less safe. I talked to a senior ambulance leader recently who said people are dying through delays.”
East of England worst hit
The largest number of serious incidents were recorded in the East of England Ambulance Trust (EEAST), where 84 were investigated last year. It covers Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, and Bedfordshire.
High numbers also occurred in the trusts in London (59), the East Midlands (58), Yorkshire (57) and the South East Coast (56).
There were 41 serious incidents in the trusts in the South West, 27 each in the North West and the West Midlands, 24 in the North East and 15 in South Central.
Sandy Brown, director of nursing and clinical quality at the EEAST, said: “The serious incident figures reported here also include what we call ‘near misses’, where something had the potential to go wrong, but didn’t.”
He said: “Though our reporting numbers are high in comparison to other ambulance trusts, we investigate every incident where we can where we feel there is learning to be made. This is beneficial both to us and the patients and families we work with.”
Response targets missed NHS England last week disclosed that ambulance response targets had been missed for 14 months in a row. In July, 67.6 per cent of top priority calls were responded to within eight minutes, below the 75 per cent target. The target for attending “Red 2″ calls – life threatening emergencies other than when a person has stopped breathing or they are suffering a heart attack – has also been missed for consecutive 18 months.