'Unacceptable waits': East of England Ambulance Service told it requires improvement

Click above to watch a video report by ITV News Anglia's Matthew Hudson

An ambulance service has been told it must continue to improve amid "unacceptable" patient waiting times.

The East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust has been rated as requires improvement by the Care Quality Commission (CQC), following an inspection carried out in April and May- that's before all of the country's ambulance services were put on the "highest alert level" this week.

The report stated that inspectors found that some patients were forced to wait longer than 12 hours before getting an ambulance.

In one example, a patient waited more than 24 hours for help before an ambulance was dispatched.

The trust was put into special measures two years ago.

While inspectors say there have been some positive changes, it highlighted a "culture of uncertainty" and slow response times.

As a result, the CQC has recommended to NHS England that the trust remains in the Recovery Support Programme (which use to be called special measures.)

The latest inspection found:

  • The service didn't always have enough staff to ensure people's safety.

  • People couldn't always access the service when they needed it, and they didn't always receive care in a timely way.

  • Due to extreme pressures to the urgent and emergency care system, some patients were delayed in accessing the hospital from the ambulance.

  • Compliance with mandatory training, including for safeguarding, was low.

  • Leaders didn't always understand or manage the priorities and issues the service faced. They weren't always visible and approachable for staff.

  • Staff didn't always feel respected, supported or valued.

  • Managers didn't routinely review the work of their staff or provide development opportunities for them.

  • There was a culture of uncertainty due to a constantly changing leadership structure.

  • Not enough had been done to address the culture of bullying at the trust.

But the report did find many positives including:

  • Staff treated patients with compassion and kindness, and they provided emotional support to patients, families and carers.

  • Staff worked well as a team for the benefit of patients, and they provided practical support.

  • Patient records were clear and stored securely.

  • It was easy for people to give feedback and raise concerns.

  • Concerns and complaints were treated seriously, investigated and shared with all staff to drive learning.

Zoe Robinson, CQC's head of hospital inspection, said:

"While there have been improvements at the East of England Ambulance Service, there is still work to do.

"Staff shortages remained and patient waiting times were unacceptable. Also, the time it took ambulances to reach people was well below national standards, and welfare calls to those waiting a long time weren't always made.

"These issues increased the risk to which people were exposed.

"We also found staff didn't always feel respected, supported or valued. More work is needed to develop staff, enable them to innovate and bring about positive change within the service.

"However, the trust was working towards promoting an open culture, where staff could raise issues or give feedback without fear of any comeback.

"We also found staff were committed to continually learning and improving services.

"The trust's improvements are encouraging, and we have told it where it must do more.

In response the Trust says significant progress has been made. In an interview with ITV News Anglia, chief executive Tom Abell admitted the trust faced challenges but said it is a long term job that needs to be done properly.

"It's uncomfortable reading and clearly we want and must do better for our communities.

"We have seen an improvement in the last couple of months, our response times have been at or near the national average, so we have seen an improvement.

"We are on a big journey as an organisation but we are working hard to change."