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South East Coast Ambulance Service denies claims its handling of NHS 111 calls led to patient deaths

By Claire McWethy

South East Coast Ambulance Service has refuted claims made in a national newspaper that its handling of NHS 111 calls led to patient deaths.

Some ambulances were deliberately delayed under a secret policy authorised by chief executive Paul Sutton.

Today The Telegraph reported details of a leaked report which it said had linked at least 11 fatalities to the policy.

SECAmb's ex-chief executive Paul Sutton
SECAmb's ex-chief executive Paul Sutton

The pilot, which ran between December 2014 and February 2015, was launched in response to the high pressures the emergency service was facing last winter.

It meant some NHS 111 non-emergency calls were transferred to the 999 emergency system to give staff up to 10 minutes more time to respond to the call, increasing how long some patients were waiting for ambulances.

Extra response time was given to calls which were placed in the second most serious category - these are for issues that may be life threatening but are less time critical.

Due to national standards 75% of these calls have to be dealt with within eight minutes, but under the project the trust gave itself up to 10 extra minutes to re-assess what type of advice or treatment the patients needed and whether an ambulance was required.

But SECAmb has refuted the claims, saying they came from a report which looked at governance in the organisation, and the relevant probe into patient outcomes was yet to be completed.

A Trust spokesperson said: “Until it is concluded it is inaccurate and completely misleading to attribute or imply any harm or deaths to the pilot.

Ambulance crew was at the scene. Stock picture.
Ambulance crew was at the scene. Stock picture.

“We will publish the findings of the patient impact review as soon as it is complete.

“However, in the preliminary work to date, no clear indications of patient harm have been identified. Indeed, the review has identified a number of seriously ill patients who received an improved response due to earlier clinical intervention as a consequence of the pilot.”

One watchdog said the claims were worrying but assured patients there were no concerns with the current 111 service.

Healthwatch Kent's Steve Inett said, "Naturally we are concerned to hear patients were affected by changes to ambulance response times last winter.

“We have not seen a copy of the leaked report which is mentioned in the media today. However, we are working with both the Ambulance Trust and the regulator Monitor.

“In the meantime, we would like to reassure people we have no current concerns about the 999 or 111 service. If you are concerned or worried, then do please contact us in confidence and share your experience with us, be it good or bad. You can call us anytime for free on 0808 801 0102.”

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