• SECAmb reports 77 incidents, including two serious, involving sat nav last year
  • Investigation discovers some crews were changing settings to “lorry mode”, which ”caused more difficulties”
  • Staff advised to use local knowledge rather than relying on technology

Ambulance crews have been warned not to rely on satellite navigation systems after a spate of incidents where they were directed onto slower routes causing delays in reaching patients.

South East Coast Ambulance Service Foundation Trust reported 77 incidents involving sat navs in 2018-2019. This included two serious incidents, although further investigation found the patients involved were not harmed as a result.

A report to SECAmb’s board in July said an investigation found in some cases crews were changing the GPS settings to lorry mode. “It was found that this caused more difficulties and made the GPS system more likely to send an ambulance via an incompatible route,” the report added. “Unfortunately it was also identified that crews could not be stopped from selecting this setting.”

The trust has recently issued staff with guidance including using their local knowledge and signposts rather than relying on the technology, turning off u-turn avoidance settings and checking their device is set for the fastest route. The board papers noted the number of reported incidents has dropped since the guidance was issued, although the situation is still being closely monitored. 

Thirty-six of the 77 incidents reported were in Thanet, in Kent. Crews there began reporting problems in October 2018, prompting SECAmb to monitor problems with sat nav specifically, including tracking the incidences using a special code on its incident reporting system Datix. 

In a statement, SECAmb said: “We take the safety of patients extremely seriously and encourage staff to report any potential incident relating to patient safety. While the governance process is ongoing, the two incidents raised as SIs have been investigated further and while GPS was a contributory factor, it has been judged that no harm occurred as a result of the issue.

“We recognise that issues with sat nav systems can occur and we will always look into any concerns raised. There are huge benefits to using GPS to respond to 999 calls. Where possible, staff are also encouraged to use local knowledge and consider using their mobile data terminal which has maps of main roads for planning longer routes.”

Earlier this month, SECAmb left special measures after nearly three years.