SCANDAL-HIT South East Coast Ambulance Service became embroiled in fresh controversy this week after it was revealed 10 staff members from its Guildford station had been disciplined for switching off ambulance tracking devices so they could avoid responding to 999 calls.
SECAmb NHS Foundation Trust carried out an internal investigation when concerns were raised regarding potential misuse of a mobile data transmission system in 2014.
Switching off the trackers, which enable control staff to track where emergency vehicles are, put patients’ lives at risk as they were not aware of ambulances’ availability and location.
A SECAmb spokesman said: “This serious breach of trust protocol resulted in six members of staff from the Guildford area being investigated and disciplined for their actions. In the case of four members of staff, who were paramedics, they were referred to the Health Care Professions Council.
“The trust takes such issues extremely seriously and undertook steps to assure itself that this practise was isolated to these individuals in the Guildford area.
“We are deeply sorry such irresponsible behaviour was taking place.
“Actions such as these do not reflect the behaviour of the vast majority of our staff, who are committed to providing compassionate and responsive patient care.”
SECAmb, which was placed in special measures last October after being judged “inadequate overall” by health watchdog the Care Quality Commission, was also accused this week of failing to deal with a culture of bullying at its Coxheath emergency operations centre.
Ambulance staff union GMB called for an independent government-led inquiry into the bullying allegations reported in The Telegraph.
SECAmb said it had appointed an external investigator and would act on the recommendations but “for a number of reasons, including process and legal matters, the trust has not yet concluded this investigation”.
GMB regional organiser Gary Palmer said:“Claims by the ambulance trust they have dealt with those involved are part of the overall problem.
“GMB have real concerns the trust-commissioned report could be a further extension of that cover-up and an attempt to expose concerned whistleblowers.”
• BBC analysis of NHS local hospital plans reveal the Surrey Heartlands area, including Guildford’s Royal Surrey County Hospital, will have a funding shortfall of £102million by 2020/21 if cost-cutting proposals in its Sustainability and Transformation Plan do not work.
The five-year plan published in October aims to reduce demand by making greater use of ambulance services and specialist frailty units and forging better links with care homes; “prevention work” will save some £15.2million year, and a further £10.1m could be saved in back-office efficiencies plus £8m from property but few details of changes are available publicly.
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