It has been reported this week that a policy instituted by the South East Coast Ambulance trust, caused ambulance responses to calls to the 111 service to be automatically delayed, even where the situation had been classed as "life threatening".
A "forensic review" is due to be published shortly into how this policy came to be put in place.
A separate enquiry has been set up to investigate the extent to which patients may have been harmed by this policy. According to the draft forensic review, cases include a delay in in sending an ambulance where there were clear signs of cardiac arrest.
Whilst the outcome of these enquiries are awaited, it is important that steps are taken to ensure that patients can trust NHS emergency systems and it is concerning that management systems allowed this policy to be put in place.
Under NHS rules, calls designated as “life-threatening” are supposed to receive an ambulance response within eight minutes - regardless of whether the caller dials 999 or the non-emergency 111 line. But the ambulance trust, which covers Sussex, Kent, Surrey and North East Hampshire, unilaterally invented its own system to "stop the clock" and routinely downgrade 111 calls. As a result, up to 20,000 callers - including cases classed as “life-threatening” – were told that an ambulance was on its way, when in fact the call had been placed in an automatic queue, adding up to 10 minutes to their wait.