£255k-a-year boss leaves following 111 call-out scandal
THE boss of a scandal-hit ambulance trust finally quit yesterday, months after a secret scheme to delay ambulances to tens of thousands of patients was exposed.
In a statement, South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS foundation trust confirmed that £255,000-a-year chief executive Paul Sutton had left to “pursue other interests.”
He had been on an agreed leave of absence after a report in March found “fundamental failings” in the trust’s scheme, which delayed ambulances to up to 20,000 patients. The “high-risk” project had not been approved from board members, the 111 NHS helpline or commissioners.
The Deloitte review found there was a strong suggestion of an “intentional effort by members of the executive team” to present the scheme in a positive light despite its governance failings and risks.
The project involved delaying ambulances until advisers had time to assess some calls if they came via the 111 helpline, unbeknown to the line’s call-handlers.
National rules say 75 per cent of calls regarded as serious should have an emergency response at the scene within eight minutes.
But the scheme saw the ambulance trust giving itself up to 10 extra minutes to reassess what type of advice or treatment patients needed, and whether an ambulance was really necessary.
Health Emergency campaign director John Lister told the Star: “This is a product of austerity policies on the NHS.
“Trusts are resorting to desperate measures to fulfil impossible targets, which are putting patients’ lives at risk.” Patients Association chief executive Katherine Murphy said it was right that the leaders of the trust be held responsible for their actions.
She said: “Any decision that downgrades urgent category ambulance calls in order to massage performance targets is deplorable and undermines the confidence that the public places in NHS leaders.
“This scheme was dangerous and the secretive decision to implement it demonstrates exceptionally poor decision-making.
“The trust should apologise to all those affected and the NHS should ensure this never occurs again at any trust.”
The trust said the process to find Mr Sutton’s replacement would start “immediately” and confirmed that Geraint Davies would continue as acting chief executive.