Health minister Steve Barclay calls for ‘risk summit’ after whistleblower claims people may have died waiting for an ambulance

MP Steve Barclay, now a health minister, pictured in 2016 after an NHS whistle blower revealed to hi

MP Steve Barclay, now a health minister, pictured in 2016 after an NHS whistle blower revealed to him confidential documents suggesting decisions have already been made to close minor injuries units at Doddington, Wisbech and Ely. - Credit: Archant

Newly appointed health minister Steve Barclay – the MP for NE Cambs - has called a crisis meeting to discuss allegations that 40 people either died or were put at risk due to ambulance failures over the Christmas period.

Mr Barclay, who was appointed Minister of State at the Department of Health and Social Care earlier this month, has called a ‘risk summit’ to discuss whistleblower claims surrounding the East of England Ambulance Service Trust.

The crisis talks come after a damning dossier compiled by a senior whistleblower from the region’s ambulance trust claimed at least 40 patients died or were harmed due to delays over Christmas and New Year - including one person who froze to death.

Mr Barclay told fellow MPs: said: “On whistleblowers, that is an issue on which I, as a constituency Member of Parliament, have long campaigned.

“I hope my record on that speaks for itself.”

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He said he had discussed concerns raised by the whistleblower with the chief executive of NHS England and the chief executive of NHS Improvement and asked them what actions they will be taking. -

“They have subsequently confirmed that they will be holding a joint risk summit regarding the trust,” he said.

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“The Care Quality Commission will be in attendance.”

The region’s NHS came under intense pressure in less than three weeks between mid-December and early January, with ambulances queuing outside A&E departments and patients reporting they were treated in corridors.

But the whistleblower, who wants to remain anonymous, revealed 19 people died in the east of England during the period and they expected the total number of patients harmed or dead due to delays to soar to around 80 when all cases had been reviewed.

A copy of the dossier included a man who waited 16 hours for an ambulance on December 27.

In Norfolk, Suffolk, and Cambridgeshire the whistleblower’s document claimed nine people died and 10 were harmed during the period.

After years of missed targets EEAST changed its response programme last year, but in the most serious cases crews are expected to arrive within seven minutes.

The whistleblower also accused senior executives of being on holiday during the crisis, and said some of the trust’s £2.5m surplus should have been spent on hiring extra staff.

EEAST denied this was the case and a spokesman said: “The trust absolutely refutes claims that there were no senior managers in over the Christmas period.

“In line with all ambulance trusts, this trust operates a gold command system, which consists a 24/7 on-call rota of the most senior operational managers who are highly experienced and well trained.”

He added: “The trust is on the public record stating that it has a gap between funded capacity and demand. It is good financial planning to ensure that the trust is in a position to hire any additional resources that may become available across the months of January, February and March. The trust is well placed to buy such resources where available.

“We are aware of the claims made by MPs but note no complaints have been received from patients or their families at this time. Nor have any concerns been expressed internally through our line management, whistleblowing or freedom to speak up processes.”

The trust said they were unable to respond to a very small number of the 50,000 calls handled over a 15-day period as quickly as we would like. The trust was undertaking a rigorous analysis of that small proportion of calls.

What is a risk summit?

A risk summit run by NHS England and NHS Improvement will be held to look into the issues at EEAST.

This is when a number of organisations come together after serious quality failings are found, and guidelines said should only be used as a last resort.

A spokesman for NHS England said the summit would be held in the next few days, but could not confirm exactly when, where, or who would be attending.

An NHS England spokesman said: “Together they agree whether actions are required to ensure patient safety and quality can be guaranteed in the short, medium and longer term and whether further risk summits are required.”

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