Ambulance staff attended emergencies without enough medicine, inspectors find

The Care Quality Commission rated North East Ambulance Service’s urgent care as ‘inadequate’.


Staff at an ambulance trust frequently responded to emergencies without enough medicine, inspectors have found.

A damning report from the Care Quality Commission (CQC) said patients were facing treatment delays as some crews from North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) did not have time to complete vehicle medicine checks.

There was a lack of sufficient availability of life-saving medicines, discrepancies in the number of medicines, missing medicines and incorrectly tagged medicines bags, the report said.

The CQC said there had been a “deterioration” of services and rated the trust’s emergency and urgent care as “inadequate”. The overall rating for the service was “requires improvement”.

The ambulance service said it had faced “unprecedented pressures” over the past 12 months and is “committed to making improvements”.

NEAS was given a warning notice after inspectors found significant improvements were needed during their unannounced visit in September.

Sarah Dronsfield, CQC’s deputy director of operations in the north, said: “We found a deterioration in the services being provided, especially in urgent and emergency care where this had potential for people to be placed at risk of harm.

“It was particularly concerning that staff didn’t always have access to critical medicines needed to treat patients and some crews didn’t have time to complete vehicle medicine checks, resulting in treatment delays.

“Staff told us they frequently responded to emergencies without the sufficient quantities of standard medicines they needed to treat common or life-threatening conditions, including morphine and seizure medication.”

Meanwhile, patients did not always receive pain relief soon after it was identified they needed it, or if they requested it.

Staff surveyed said they felt “under pressure”.

The service is responsible for emergency care for 2.7 million people across an area of just over 3,200 miles.

North East Ambulance Service said it is ‘committed to longer term change’ (Alamy/PA)

The latest inspection focused on the trust’s emergency care, its emergency operations centre, the NHS 111 service and its leadership.

The CQC said positive areas included staff taking time to interact with patients in a respectful and considerate way, and maintaining their dignity throughout their journey and when being transferred to hospital.

Ms Dronsfield said: “Through engagement with the trust we know they have taken our concerns seriously and have put in measures to address our findings. We are mindful that ambulance services are operating under increased pressure and we are pleased the trust is keen to make the necessary improvements.”

Helen Ray, NEAS chief executive, said: “Over the last 12 months the ambulance service and the NHS as a whole has faced unprecedented pressures, the likes of which we’ve never experienced.

“Providing the best possible care to all our patients remains our top priority. We are all committed to making improvements until we and the CQC are confident that the concerns raised have been fully addressed.

“In the six months since the first inspection, we have taken swift action and subsequently provided additional assurance to the CQC that the work will ensure effective systems are in place to keep patients safe. We recognise there is more to do and are committed to longer term change as well as a short-term response.

“I am pleased that throughout the report, the dedication, care and commitment provided by all our staff is recognised and acknowledged by the CQC. Our teams continue to deliver the best care possible in these exceptional times.”

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