• Number of incidents reported by ambulance staff jumped 33 per cent compared to a year before
  • NHS Improvement says a year on year comparison is misleading
  • Ambulance trusts praise positive reporting culture and improved systems for increases

The number of incidents reported by ambulance staff last winter jumped 33 per cent compared to the year before.

Ambulance staff reported 7,282 incidents between October 2017 and March 2018, 1,788 more than the same period in 2016-17, NHS Improvement’s latest analysis said.

Despite only reporting three months of the six month period, East of England Ambulance Trust made up the majority of reported incidents. The trust has recently faced allegations about patient harm caused by ambulance delays and cultural concerns within the trust.

Chief executive Robert Morton announced he was stepping down in September.

Overall, while 4,765 ambulance service incidents resulted in no harm to the patient, 101 deaths were reported as being a direct result of an incident. There were also 94 incidents of severe harm and 280 incidents of moderate harm.

Although NHSI included a year on year comparison in its latest report, the regulator told HSJ it would be misleading to compare the two years and pointed to data from 1 October 2015 to 31 March 2016 when ambulance trusts reported 8,082 incidents.

Across the NHS, the number of incidents reported as occurring between October 2017 and March 2018 reached 963,028.

In its latest report, NHSI said: “This is 4.9 per cent more than between October 2016 and March 2017. The increase in incidents reported as occurring in the same period varies by [sector]. The greatest increase in incidents reported as occurring was seen among NHS ambulance trusts (32.5 per cent), and a small decline was observed among NHS community trusts (–1.3 per cent).”

In the acute sector, there were 730,000 incidents reported, of which there were 712 deaths and 1,810 incidents of severe harm.

There was also a 6.1 per cent increase in incidents in mental health providers where the number of incidents increased from 157,000 to 166,000. The sector reported the largest number of deaths as a result of an incident at 1,331.

An East of England Ambulance Service spokesman told HSJ, of the 1,738 incidents in the data, no harm was caused in 1,527 incidents. Only two incidents involved severe harm, with 44 moderate harm and 165 listed as low harm. The trust said it had had no deaths as a result of an incident.

He added: “We welcome the sustained increase in staff reporting as it shows growing confidence from colleagues in what we can all learn when things go wrong. The figures show we reported nearly double the amount of incidents compared to the second highest trust.”

London Ambulance Service, which reported the highest number of deaths, said it had introduced a new system to make it easier for staff to report incidents. A spokeswoman said: “This provides us with information to act proactively to reduce the risks of severe harm incidents happening. The increase reflects a positive reporting culture and our focus on patient safety.”

Kathy McLean, executive medical director at NHSI, said: “Our ambulance staff work very hard to provide safe and effective care for patients throughout the year and plans are in place to ensure this continues over the winter period.

“Over the last three years, figures show that reporting of incidents by ambulance trusts is variable and it would be misleading to just compare one six month period with another. It is vital that staff are supported to report any patient safety incidents and that these reports are analysed by trusts to understand the reasons behind any trends.

“We are working to develop a new patient safety incident management system which will make reporting easier and more impactful for staff.”

According to NHSI guidance, trusts should record the actual degree of harm suffered by the patient as a direct result of the patient safety incident.