PERFORMANCE: An ambulance trust is braced for a highly critical inspection report and possible regulatory action after initial feedback highlighted serious failings and a lack of accountability in the organisation.

South East Coast Ambulance Services Foundation Trust has taken the unusual step of releasing the Care Quality Commission’s feedback letter, written after the early May inspection.

This said:

  • risk management, complaints and incident processes, and systems for learning were “highly unsatisfactory”;
  • arrangements for safeguarding were “exceptionally weak”;
  • there was a lack of clarity around management roles leading to accountability being absent in many areas – “this was particularly notable for the three clinical directors”;
  • the computer aided dispatch system appeared not to have been updated so some addresses could be out of date; and
  • many staff did not feel cared for by the organisation and HR policies were applied inconsistently. After the inspection, the CQC received a number of calls suggesting the trust had a culture of bullying and harassment.

The letter praised the openness of staff in their discussions; the high standard of caring shown by staff; and some of the innovative work the trust has done.

The trust has faced controversy since autumn last year when it was revealed it had deliberately delayed the response to some emergency calls to allow extra assessment time. This led to the chair stepping down in March and chief executive Paul Sutton left the organisation after a period of “mutually agreed leave” last month.

Interim chair Sir Peter Dixon said: “We have already shared the headlines of this letter with staff and governors but we have now clarified with the CQC that we are able to make the entire letter public. On the basis that it gives us very clear work to do, some of which has already started, I thought it important that everyone should have access to it. As you will see, it is possible that further regulatory action will follow and I should emphasise that we will use that to enhance all aspects of our care for patients and our responsibility towards staff.”