• Emergency services criticised for failing to coordinate with each other
  • “Poor communication” both on the ground and in control rooms highlighted
  • Ambulance service and fire brigade criticised for deviating from joint doctrine

The London Ambulance Service Trust has pledged to improve communications with other emergency services after a report into the Grenfell Tower disaster highlighted failings.

The first report of the inquiry into the fire, which was released yesterday, said the emergency services failed to coordinate with each other and share information as intended, especially in the early stages of the June 2017 fire.

The report added communication was “poor” both on the ground and between control rooms — for example, some emergency calls LAS received from people in the tower were not passed onto the fire brigade.

“Most seriously, each declared a major incident without immediately informing the others that it had done so,” inquiry chair Sir Martin Moore-Bick wrote. “These failures represent weaknesses in the arrangements under which category 1 responders are to work together in response to a serious incident.”

In particular, the report said LAS did not know the fire brigade had declared a major incident until an hour later, and would have sent more ambulances, specialist resources and a medical emergency response incident team earlier had it been aware. However, the report added it was unlikely this would have saved lives or prevented injury.

Sir Martin recommended the joint doctrine, which governs how the emergency services work together, should be amended to make it clear each service should tell others when a major incident has been declared as soon as possible. 

Sir Martin’s report said clear lines of communication should then be established between control rooms, using a single point of contact in each. He added a message detailing the hazards involved in an emergency and the possible number of casualties should be sent as soon as possible after declaring a major incident.

However, the report added the joint doctrine had not been followed in full. It continued: “The principal flaw, common to all [services], was poor communication, both at control room level and on the ground, which meant the individual organisations were often working in isolation and in ignorance of what the others were doing.”

The inquiry also heard the London Fire Brigade did not have access to the police and ambulance services’ computer aided discharge logs. The emergency services’ inability to share information from CADs was raised by the coroner investigating the 2005 London bombings, which led to new requirements for all responders to share information and coordinate with each other.

Paul Woodrow, LAS’ director of operations, told the inquiry the lack of a single point of contact in control rooms — something the joint doctrine states should be in place — contributed to the communication difficulties. He did not know whether “appropriate arrangements” were in place in the LAS on the night, and it did not seem to have been in place in the fire brigade control room, the inquiry heard.

In a statement yesterday, Mr Woodrow said: “We welcome the findings and fully accept the recommendations which have now been published from the first phase of the Grenfell Inquiry, as far as they relate to the LAS.

“We will work jointly with our emergency service colleagues and others to ensure any actions and areas of focus are addressed as quickly as possible.

“The fire at Grenfell Tower had a profound impact on everyone involved across the organisation, both on the night of the incident itself and also in the days, weeks and months that followed. I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to each and every one of my colleagues in the service who responded to this disaster.”

Seventy people died when the Kensington tower block caught fire on the night of 14 June 2017. Another resident died later in hospital and a child was stillborn after his mother escaped from the fire.

Sir Martin also recommended the emergency services and London local authorities work together to improve the collection of information about survivors, so friends and relatives could be told what had happened to them.