Ambulance Trust bosses scrutinised by councillors in Hertfordshire

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The ambulance trust is currently in ‘special measures’ after concerns were highlighted in a CQC report

Councillors have raised concerns about the turnover of people taking on the region’s top ambulance job.

Since 2006, there have been SEVEN different chief executives at the East of England Ambulance Trust.

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The latest appointment Tom Abell – who is currently deputy chief exec of Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust – is about to take over the reigns at the Trust next month (August).

Herts County CouncilHerts County Council
Herts County Council

And at a meeting of the county’s Health Scrutiny Committee on Wednesday, July 7, councillors flagged up the impact of so many different chiefs.

Cllr Peter Hebden – who pointed to the seven different chief execs at the Trust since 2006 – said: “Culture comes from leadership – because the workforce need to know what the chief executive’s attitude is, what the stance is and what the priorities are.

“You can’t do that with a change of chief executive every two years. Can you imagine if Hertfordshire Police or the Metropolitan Police had a new commissioner every two years?

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“The staff wouldn’t know if they were coming or going – because everything is just permanently evolving.

“That has to be for me one of the main issues with regards to the culture of the ambulance service.”

And that view was backed by Cllr Colette Wyatt-Lowe, who said: “The main problem with this Trust is the quality of leadership and that vast turnover. There has to be something that is causing that.

“For seven changes then there’s something within that system – either their selection process or something in there – that none of them are actually addressing in public.”

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The remarks were made as part of the committee’s ‘annual patient experience scrutiny’ of the work of the county’s various health Trusts – which this year focussed on the impact of Covid-19.

The ambulance trust is currently in ‘special measures’ after concerns were highlighted in a Care Quality Commission report in September 2020.

And part of that report highlighted concerns raised by staff about sexual harassment, bullying and other inappropriate behaviour.

After acknowledging the CQC report at the meeting, EEAST chief operating officer Marcus Bailey said that the culture of the organisation was changing – but that it would take time.

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He said: “We are committed and we are very clear that from our point of view harassment, sexual harassment, sexual discrimination and discrimination of any kind is unwanted and not tolerated with in the East of England Ambulance Service.

“It’s a long journey – culture change in any big organisation will take time and these are incremental steps as we move forward.”

Mr Bailey highlighted ongoing work at the Trust to build confidence in staff and volunteers to speak up.

And it was reported that 200 staff had already having spoken to the Trust’s ‘ Freedom to Speak Up Guardian’.

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But Mr Bailey also acknowledged that within the Trust there were still some “unacceptable behaviours”.

At the meeting he noted the ongoing pressures on the ambulance service caused by the Covid-19 pandemic – and said staff had ‘worked relentlessly’.

“A very tough period in Covid – a very tough period we are still managing on a daily basis,” he said.

“The message in every opportunity that I can give is that Covid is not over.”

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He said staff were now ‘tired’ and ‘running on empty’ and he said stress, anxiety and wellbeing issues now accounted for 35 per cent of staff absence.

As part of the scrutiny the Trust shared data with the committee that showed that in May there were 117,183 emergency ‘999’ calls made to the Trust – resulting in 83,062 attendances.

And 15,211 of those calls were from the Hertfordshire and West Essex area.

On average – in the Herts and West Essex area – it took 6.58 minutes to respond to the most serious ‘C1’ category of calls and 24.36minutes to respond to a ‘C2’.

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C1 calls are those that require ‘an immediate response to a potentially life-threatening illness or injury.

C2 are those that are classed as an emergency for a potentially serious condition.

According to their report handover delays at hospitals ‘significantly impact’ upon responses.

And there are now ‘hospital arrival liaison officers’ at the Lister, Watford and Harlow hospitals 12-hours a day to resolve any issues.

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EEAST head of operations for Hertfordshire and West Essex Glenn Young pointed to the significant demand of Emergency Departments – and the associated complications with Covid-19.

And according to the report more than 90 per cent of Trust staff have now received two doses of the Covid-19 vaccination

At the end of the session concerns were raised about the level of detail in some areas. And it was agreed that the Health Scrutiny Committee would ask officials from the Trust to return to a future meeting of the committee in the autumn.

The Health Scrutiny Committee is made-up of councillors from Hertfordshire County Council and the 10 district and boroughs councils, as well as representatives from Healthwatch.

Following the meeting the East of England Ambulance Service Trust confirmed that Tom Abell would be the Trust’s eighth chief executive since 2006.