South East Coast Ambulance Service is criticised by employee


A SECAmb employee has spoken out about ‘failings’ in the ambulance service, said to be caused by a ‘shortfall of resources’.

The worker, who contacted the Observer anonymously, said staff were ‘disgruntled and frustrated’ with the service provided by South East Coast Ambulance service.

“Are you aware vehicles from Bognor and Chichester are daily taken to Worthing to cover calls in that area, while Worthing crews are taken to Brighton to cover that area,” she said.

“That means a shortfall in the Chichester area, and calls are stacked until a resource is available.

“It is not uncommon during the day or night to hear calls go out in the Chichester or Bognor area and have no resources to send.”

She also said SECAmb was ‘unprepared’ for the increase in calls following introduction of the 111 system.

“We tell the public, and they are horrified to hear about the amount of vehicles on.”

The letter was written in response to a report published in the Observer in June, which said paramedics in the Chichester district were responding to the most serious cardiac incidents within the target of eight minutes in only half of
cases from February to April this year.

SECAmb was also revealed to be responding to 50 per cent of calls designated as ‘cardiac life-threatening conditions’ in Chichester, in the target of under eight minutes.

This is the joint lowest figure across West Sussex.

“SECAmb works extremely hard to ensure it has the right number of resources to meet the demand placed upon it across its Sussex, Surrey and Kent region,” said a spokesman for the service.

“However, we have been, and continue to be, extremely busy with activity far in excess of the typical five per cent year-on-year increase in 999 calls we would expect. Last year we received well in excess of 850,000 calls.”

This compares to 650,000 calls received 2008 to 2009. In July, nearly 80,000 calls were received, with 14,000 of them in West Sussex.

“Our vehicles operate across a wide area and our numbers will vary depending on the time of the year, day of the week and hour of the day. When a vehicle has to leave an area to take a patient to a particular hospital for example, our control room staff will look to cover all areas as necessary using our deployment plan.

“There are times when the increased demand placed upon us makes this challenging.”

He said the service was implementing a new rota in the West Sussex ‘dispatch area’ which should match 
the demand placed on ambulance crews.

“We know how hard all our staff are working. They are extremely dedicated and caring people and we appreciate that they are performing at a very high level in challenging circumstances every day.

“SECAmb operates, in partnership with Harmoni, the NHS 111 service across Kent, Surrey and Sussex. The service is performing well and providing people with an alternative non-emergency number to 999. NHS 111 uses the same triage system as SECAmb’s 999 Emergency Operations Centres. This ensures life-threatening and serious calls that are made to 111 still receive an immediate ambulance response. Calls passed on to the ambulance service by NHS 111 previously existed but would have presented differently via NHS Direct or out-of-hours services.

“Along with all ambulance services nationally, SECAmb uses private ambulance providers when faced, for example, with high levels of demand. There are robust governance arrangements in place for the procurement of private ambulance services. We will always prioritise using our own crews whenever possible and are continuing to look at ways in which we can reduce the use of private ambulance providers. This includes a strong recruitment drive to employ more paramedics and tackle a national shortage in the profession. In the last financial year we recruited more than 100 paramedics.”