Sussex ambulance service improves rating to ‘requires improvement’ but remains in special measures

South East Coast Ambulance NHS Foundation Trust has improved its overall rating following a latest visit from Care Quality Commission inspectors
South East Coast Ambulance NHS Foundation Trust has improved its overall rating following a latest visit from Care Quality Commission inspectors

Sussex’s ambulance service has improved its overall rating from ‘inadequate’ to ‘requires improvement’ after the latest visit from regulators.

Inspectors from the Care Quality Commission visited South East Coast Ambulance NHS Foundation Trust between July and September and found the new leadership team had been tackling the challenges facing the trust with ‘compassion and energy’.

Although the trust has improved its overall rating to ‘requires improvement’ following the inspection it remains in special measures, where it has been since its services were rated inadequate in 2016.

Staff shortages

The inspectors found staff shortages across both the emergency operations centre and urgent care core services was having an impact on both staff and patient safety.

However on emergency calls the trust was above the national average on responding to the most serious 999 calls for people with life-threatening injuries.

However some patients classified as the lower category 3 or 4 were at an increased risk due to experiencing long delays.

A CQC spokesman said: “The trust had made significant improvements since the last inspection to emergency and urgent care. There had been a positive shift in organisational culture, with new systems and processes that had a measurable impact on the service.”

Feedback from patients positive

The inspection found that staff were motivated to deliver the best care, treating patients with compassion, dignity and respect. Feedback from patients and those close to them was positive.

The trust said it is aware there remains more to be done to ensure it continues to make progress, including improving its service to patients who do not require an immediate response and ensuring 999 calls waiting for an ambulance to attend are managed appropriately.

SECAmb said it was particularly pleased at the improvements made in the safe and well-led sections of the inspection and is delighted that staff have, once again, been rated as good for the care they provide to patients.

‘Trust is on the right path’

Daren Mochrie, Chief Executive, said: “I am pleased that the CQC have found a significant number of improvements since their last inspection and I am confident that the trust is on the right path to make further progress.

“We are aware that there remains work to be done and this has already been taking place since the inspection, prior to the publication of the CQC’s report. I know that right across the trust, staff are committed to further improve the services we provide to our patients.

“I welcome last month’s increased funding decision by our commissioners, which will ensure that we can continue to make improvements and that we have the future capacity to deliver the service our communities rightly expect and deserve in the years to come.”

Trust Chair, David Astley added: “In the short time I have been with the trust, I have been very impressed with all the staff I have met. They show tremendous commitment every day to our patients and they should be very proud.

“I and the board are pleased with what we see as a positive report but recognise there is more to be done. We will continue to support the trust as it moves forward and make further improvements.”

Trust should remain in special measures ‘for now’

Ted Baker, CQC’s chief inspector of hospitals, said: “Two years ago we found significant concerns about the performance of the ambulance service South East Coast Ambulance Service, with both staff and patients let down by their leadership.

“It a service that almost five million people depend on, so I am pleased to report that there were signs of change across South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust and this has led to an improvement in the overall rating.

“It is clear that this board understand the importance of a culture that supports and values staff. Although there has been progress in addressing the immediate issues, we felt that it is still too early to judge their effectiveness and for that reason I believe the trust should remain in special measures for now.

“There remain number of concerns that we found during the inspection that the trust have addressed since then, or provided us with further assurance.

“The trust must continue the good work, and focus on those areas where we have identified the need for further improvement.

“We will continue to monitor the service closely and return in the future to check on progress.”

Areas of good practice

Areas of good practice and improvements highlighted by the CQC include:

• Staff cared for patients with compassion. All staff inspectors spoke with were motivated to deliver the best care possible and feedback from patients and those close to them was positive.

• The trust promoted a positive culture that supported and valued staff. Inspectors found an improved culture across the service since the last inspection. Most staff felt the culture had improved and felt able to raise concerns to their managers.

• Medicines management was robust and effective with a marked improvement since the previous inspection. Inspectors found elements of outstanding medicine management, for example the way the trust handled controlled drugs. An external review also recognised the impressive turnaround in performance.

• A new well-being hub which enables staff to access support in a variety of areas. The service was widely commended by staff during the inspection.

• A significant improvement in the process for investigating complaints and the quality of the trust’s response to complaints since the previous inspection

• Support for maternity patients was excellent. A new pregnancy advice and triage line for pregnant women had been introduced within the Crawley EOC.