South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust, which is responsible for sending ambulances in the Kent, Surrey, Sussex, Brighton and North East Hampshire regions, is under investigation for failing to adhere to NHS national response targets. 

During a three month period between December 2014 and February 2015, the trust ran a pilot scheme aimed at  gaining more time to assess the severity of the illnesses experienced by patients. The result of this pilot scheme was that some non-emergency 111 calls were transferred to the emergency 999 system, even when the calls related to emergency conditions such as strokes and fits. 

Patients who had called the 111 service for these serious conditions were re-triaged in the 999 system to re-assess the advice or treatment they needed and whether an ambulance was required at all. The net result was that, although the call handlers for the 999 service gained an additional 10 minutes to respond, there was a delay in an ambulance being sent to patients.

Health regulator, Monitor, has said that the project was poorly handled, performed without proper authorisation, and did not fully consider patient safety. The trust acknowledged that it had not acted in the correct manner but said that the ambulance delays were due to the unprecedented call volumes. 

Arran Macleod, a clinical negligence solicitor, said: “Conditions such as strokes can be life-threatening and patients often need to be treated very quickly. Any delay to the arrival of an ambulance and the required treatment can have dire consequences for  their long-term outcome. 

“We act regularly for patients who have suffered as a result of a delay in receiving treatment for their stroke. In this instance, the South East Coast Ambulance Service’s pilot scheme may have extended the recovery period for many patients.”