Special measures for struggling services

In November of last year, London Ambulance Service NHS Trust (LAS) became the first ambulance Trust to be placed under special measures following an inspection of the service by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) in June 2015. The overall rating given by England’s chief inspector of hospitals, Prof Sir Mike Richards, was that the service was inadequate, and it was acknowledged that improvements were needed on safety, effectiveness, responsiveness and leadership (CQC, 2015b).

Of the key findings, it was noted that LAS had a high number of front-line vacancies, with some employees saying that there were not enough appropriately trained staff to ensure that patients were consistently safe and received the right level of care (CQC, 2015a). As a result of staff working long hours, many reported feeling high levels of stress and fatigue. Additionally, while the CQC recognised that staff were ‘overwhelmingly dedicated, hardworking and compassionate,’ they revealed that ‘some reported a culture of harassment and bullying’ (CQC, 2015a). It was highlighted how until March 2014, LAS was consistently the best performing service in the country to category A calls. However, since then there has been a substantial decline in performance, and the target time of 75% of calls being responded to within 8 minutes has not been met. This is something that has been affecting ambulance services across England, although LAS response times for Red 1 and Red 2 category A calls were reported as being the worst in the country. Serious concerns were also identified about the service’s Hazardous Area Response Team (HART) capability due to an insufficient number of paramedics. The result was the feeling that there was not a safe system of working where an effective HART response could be utilised (CQC, 2015b).

The decision to place LAS under special measures is a considerable blow, not just to the service, but to all members of ambulance Trusts. Fundamentally it highlights the CQC’s belief that LAS is unable to provide the level of care expected of it. This is despite the dedication and commitment that is clearly apparent in front-line staff, alluded to in the report. But while it is easy to consider the negative connotations of the CQC’s report, it is important to remember that one of the key reasons why services are placed under special measures is to ensure they get the support they need to improve. External partners such as the NHS Trust Development Authority and NHS England will give LAS access to a package of additional resources and support.

Ambulance services throughout the country are struggling to deal with increasing pressures, a national shortage of paramedics and insufficient funding. It is hoped that other ambulance services will not suffer similar findings from the CQC, but it should be reassuring to know that there is a system in place to offer support to services that are unable to make improvements required of them on their own.

References

Care Quality Commission (2015a) Chief Inspector of Hospitals recommends London Ambulance Service NHS Trust is placed into special measures. CQC, London. http://www.cqc.org.uk/content/chief-inspector-hospitals-recommends-london-ambulance-service-nhs-trust-placed-special (accessed 4 January 2015)

Care Quality Commission (2015b) London Ambulance Service NHS Trust Quality Report. CQC, London. http://www.cqc.org.uk/sites/default/files/new_reports/AAAD5514.pdf (accessed 4 January 2016)

Taken from Journal of Paramedic Practice, published 8 January 2016.

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