THE ambulance trust that serves Hampshire has launched an internal investigation into its NHS 111 call centre after system failures were highlighted by an investigation.
A Telegraph reporter spent seven weeks undercover working at South Central Ambulance Service’s (Scas) NHS 111 call centre in Oxfordshire.
We have appointed an investigating officer to oversee this processA South Central Ambulance Service spokesman
The reporter found a computer system used by staff to assess callers can refuse to send an ambulance even if a patient has symptoms of a heart attack.
The reporter was unable to send a crew to a man suffering from chest pains, because he could not be sure about the cause of his symptoms.
This was a decision upheld by a medic at the centre and the man was told to contact a GP instead.
The investigation also found call handlers were told when ambulances are ‘stacked’ due to a backlog of requests, emergency crews should not be dispatched without the specific approval of a clinician, unless the patient was having a stroke or heart attack.
The reporter’s mentor was recorded on video admitting: ‘As horrible as it sounds, one way or another everyone in this room has killed someone indirectly because of what we’ve done...’
Scas has announced an independent investigation following the report, and admitted a shortage of trained paramedics was a national problem facing the health service.
It also found staff altered answers given by patients to avoid having to send ambulances, and changing computer data to make it appear they are meeting ambulance response times.
A spokesman for Scas said: ‘We take the issues and points raised by the undercover reporter very seriously and as a result of this we have launched an internal investigation to review the allegations.
‘In response to the comments raised, we will follow the principles of our Whistleblowing Policy to investigate the alleged issues identified.
‘We have appointed an investigating officer to oversee this process. We have informed relevant stakeholders of the issues raised, including our regulators and commissioners, as a reflection of the importance we attach to the concerns raised.’
The spokesman went on to say: ‘Scas takes any issues relating to staff conduct very seriously, particularly in relation to patient safety and experience.
‘Where we receive reports of inappropriate conduct or behaviour we strictly enforce our internal policies and procedures.
‘With regard to our NHS 111 services, we would like to reassure members of the public that we use a safe and nationally prescribed call taking and clinical assessment system, NHS Pathways which assists us in ensuring that patients in a life-threatening or serious condition are treated as a priority.
‘If required the nearest available and most appropriate ambulance resource is dispatched to match the clinical needs of that patient.’
Patient watchdog group Healthwatch Hampshire’s manager Steven Taylor said: ‘This is shocking to find out and I want Scas to ensure its investigation is to be as transparent as possible.’