• Coroner links four 2017 deaths to ambulance delays involving special measures trust
  • Deaths included one month old baby
  • Trust was moving its headquarters and installing new IT system when three of the four deaths occurred

A coroner is probing four deaths – including one of a month old baby – which all occurred this year and all involved delayed responses from an ambulance trust in special measures.

South East Coast Ambulance Service Foundation Trust was moving its headquarters and training staff on a new computer system at the time three of the deaths occurred last August. A month beforehand the trust’s board had discussed how the service was seeing more calls abandoned and long waits for calls to be answered, and the impact of funding on safety.

On 25 August Jenson Braisby, from Polegate in East Sussex, was found unresponsive in his cot by his mother, Lauren. When a call to South East Coast Ambulance Service FT went unanswered, she drove him to hospital and intercepted an ambulance on the way, a pre-inquest review was told. But the baby – one of twins – could not be saved despite attempts to resuscitate him by ambulance staff.

East Sussex coroner Alan Craze has linked the investigation into his death with those of three elderly East Sussex residents – Maurice Goodwin, 87, of Eastbourne, Daisy Filby, 90, of Seaford, and Anthony Harding, 87, of Wivelsfield. In each case, the coroner has said ambulances either did not turn up or took longer than expected to arrive.

Mr Craze has now asked for additional information from the trust – which is in special measures and has an inadequate rating from the Care Quality Commission - before setting dates for the inquests.

Mr Goodwin and Jenson died within a week of each other in late August; another of the cases was also in August and the other one was in June.

In August, South East Coast Ambulance Service FT was preparing to move emergency calls staff from Banstead, in Surrey, to its new headquarters outside Crawley, and had recently introduced a new computer system for despatching ambulances.

Its board papers from this time show that staff had been reluctant to take up overtime shifts because many now lived further away from the centre. They also detail issues answering calls within the time planned – in part because staff had been pulled away from answering calls to train on the new system.

The trust reached just six out of 10 “red 1” calls within eight minutes in August and under half of “red 2” calls within the same time. The target was 75 per cent. The following month – September - it had the worst response times ever recorded by any ambulance trust since the red 1 and 2 system of prioritising calls had been introduced in 2012.

Board reports from later in the year show the trust was investigating a number of serious incidents involving delayed call answering and despatch. The trust had 52 complaints about ambulance delays in August and 73 in September - double its normal monthly average.

A trust spokesman said: “Our thoughts are with all those affected by these sad incidents. The trust has reviewed these cases and will share the findings with those involved and with the coroner in due course.

“With any such incident, all possible circumstances will be considered as part of the process, and therefore it would be inappropriate to comment further until the inquests have been heard.”