Downgrading 999 Calls Affected Thousands Of Patients

14.01.2015

An ambulance emergency centre's decision to downgrade 999 calls over a two-month period left many patients waiting longer for treatment, according to a report.

Call centre managers at the East of England Trust relaxed guidelines without consultation between December 18th 2013 and February 22nd 2014, which the trust now admits affected some 8,324 people, including 57 who died.

Under the new guidance, ambulances were not sent to some patients with terminal illnesses or those who had given Do Not Resuscitate instructions.

Some patients who should have received treatment within eight minutes were downgraded by four categories to only receiving a telephone call from a clinical coordinator.

The issue was only brought to light when call handlers raised safety concerns about the downgrade to the new Chief Executive Anthony Marsh, who then reinstated Department of Health guidelines.

"What is most shocking is the way patients who were near the end of life were treated," said Denise Burke, who campaigns for better ambulance responses in the area.

"We need to know whether their death was accelerated by the downgrading of the calls."

Expert Opinion
The findings of this report are extremely concerning as they indicate that the health of patients has regularly been put at risk by the downgrading of emergency calls. In our work we have represented a number of people who were not able to access the treatment and care they required in a timely fashion, with serious consequences as a result of delays.

“It is crucial a thorough investigation is conducted into the findings of this report, as well as the new guidance implemented at the East of England Trust over the period in question. It is vital swift action is taken and patients are reassured that they will be able to access emergency treatment if they are in need of it.”
Guy Forster, Partner