Thursday, 17 December 2009

Round-Up: Emerging Scrutiny On Ambulances

Everyone knows you dial 999 for an emergency service, but the most recent annual report by the Care Quality Commission raised questions about the standard of local ambulances [download pdf1, download pdf2, data on response times by month in 2009] - it suggested they may be in need of a call-out themselves!

Although several areas were shown to be strong, the politically sensitive areas of response time and quality of care were the two performance measures which came under particular criticism.

The shock waves from the report certainly took their time to ripple out among the local commentariat.

Lucy Crossley missed the scale of their impact by downplaying the results as 'mixed'.

First to pick up the explosive nature of the report was LibDem Bracknell blogger and health campaigner Darren Bridgeman, who was shocked that this report showed South Central Ambulance Service to be the third worst in the country!

Several days later the service was forced to apologise for 'totally unacceptable' service lapses.

Chair of Reading Housing, Health and Community Care Scrutiny Panel, Lib Dem Cllr Daisy Benson said the report was a "real concern" and asserted the importance that the providers of vital local services are held accountable for their performance levels, while Labour's Cllr Pete Ruhemann said there was a need "to get some answers - in public."

In Hampshire Will Carson reports that Romsey MP Sandra Gidley was forcing "crunch talks with health bosses".

Natalie Slater provides some more background.

South Central Ambulance Service is a three-and-a-half-year-old service which was formed from the merger of the former ambulance trusts covering the counties of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hampshire and Oxfordshire.

It is now based in Bicester, Oxfordshire.

She also got quotes from SCAS spokesperson Sarah Eastman ("disappointed") and Chief Executive Will Hancock ("we have a robust action plan").

Meanwhile on her own blog Cllr Benson noted several difficulties with providing an effective local service to a population of over 4m.

A scrutiny meeting was dutifully scheduled for 8th December.

Darren Bridgeman followed up by noting problems with staffing shortages are having a detrimental effect, which Mike Pyle reported in more detail - apparently cost of living problems are creating havoc with staff retention and recruitment can't keep pace.

Thankfully Cllr Daisy Benson and Darren Bridgeman also provided a write-up of last week's scrutiny panel.

The Redlands LibDem chaired the committee while the Bracknell Blogger posed some questions.

SCAS provided seven reasons why the service may not be up to scratch, including a big increase in the calls logged, but this was not enough to prevent councillors from across the region of accusing them of running a 'two-tier' service at a joint review group attended by representatives from all four counties.

Speaking on behalf of the joint board Henley councillor Dr Peter Skolar described a big disparity between the service provided to rural areas and urban areas which appeared to be designed to manipulate the response statistics so that the targets could be met more easily.

Providing another perspective on the story local blogger Baba Mzungu gives an insight into the more drastic health situation facing people on the edge of Lake Victoria in Africa - where no ambulances are available.

He says that at a basic level everything all comes down to money, while problems all stem from a lack of it!
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