Ambulance Service for Milton Keynes and Aylesbury vows to make 'rapid improvements' after inadequate rating

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The ambulance service which covers Aylesbury, Milton Keynes, and large parts of the South East of England has vowed to make urgent improvements.

South Central Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SCAS) has released a statement addressing ‘serious concerns’ raised in a new CQC report.

The ambulance service was rated as ‘inadequate’ in a CQC review which inspected its services in April.

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The inspection was undertaken to scrutinise concerns around the culture and leadership at the emergency response unit.

South Central AmbulanceSouth Central Ambulance
South Central Ambulance

Amanda Williams, CQC’s director of integrated care, said: "While staff were doing their very best to provide safe care to patients, leaders often appeared out of touch with what was happening on the front line and weren’t always aware of the challenges staff faced. Staff described feeling unable to raise concerns without fear of reprisal - and when concerns were raised, these were not acted on.

"This meant that some negative aspects of the organisational culture, including bullying and harassment and inappropriate sexualised behaviour, were not addressed and became normalised behaviours. I want to praise those staff who were brave enough to come forward, as speaking up in these circumstances is not easy, but it is important that it happens.

“It’s clear the trust needs help to ensure significant improvements in leadership are put in place to give hardworking staff the support they need and deserve to deliver good care."

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The report also found that delays in reaching people who had requested emergency assistance were frequent and prolonged.

The director went on to state that she has recommended that the ambulance service receives the highest level of support available to change its culture.

After inspection the service is urged to improve its outstanding safeguarding referrals, and development a new training programme for this part of the service.

As currently, there are no formal appraisals and not all staff were completing mandatory training, according to the summer inspection.

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Also, SCAS must increase its capacity in ambulance crews and call centres, and develop a new process for handling serious incident reviews.

According to the report, more equipment checks must take place on all 660 vehicles covering the region.

During the inspection pigeon droppings were found on ambulances and equipment on site.

Other immediate actions listed included the need to enact Weekly deep cleans of sites, to address infection prevention concerns, and investing more in its Freedom to Speak Up function.

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Also, the CQC inspector stated the trust must establish a women’s staff network to address: “sexual safety”.

SCAS says it is determined to make rapid improvements in the wake of its rating.

Will Hancock, SCAS chief executive said: “The CQC has highlighted some serious concerns which we must, and will, fix as a matter of urgency. I want to reassure everyone that we have already taken swift action, but I recognise we have more to do. Providing the best possible care to all our patients remains our top priority.

“We have an extensive improvement plan and we are committed to making things better. We will keep focused on putting things right until we and the CQC are confident all the concerns have been fixed.

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“It is vital that every member of our team can raise concerns with the confidence they will be dealt with quickly and effectively. We are also working with our partners across the NHS to manage the on-going pressures so we can improve response times and hospital handover times.”

Outside of its damning criticism of the leadership and culture in the organisation the report did highlight the good work being done by frontline staff.

Inspectors said responders were “compassionate” and proud of the work they did during the pandemic.

They witnessed staff who had gone “the extra mile” to support patients in need.

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Professor Sir Keith Willett, trust chair, said: “Since joining SCAS in the Spring, I have seen the enormous dedication and pride across all our teams. Their commitment to providing the best possible care to patients throughout the pandemic and during the continued pressure on the NHS has been outstanding. I am reassured this commitment has been recognised in the CQC's report; and is also being applied to addressing their concerns.

“This rating is a huge disappointment to everyone. The board takes responsibility for that and we will work with colleagues across the Trust and our partners to put things right. In doing so I’m confident SCAS will become a better trust than it has ever been, both for our patients, staff and volunteers.”