Independent review into North East Ambulance Service finds some staff ‘still frightened’ to raise concerns

NHS England has published an independent review into the alleged failures of patient safety and governance at North East Ambulance Service (NEAS).

Dame Marianne Griffiths DBE was commissioned by NHS England to carry out a review in response to a whistle-blowing allegation revealed in the Sunday Times in May 2022.  The allegation was that NEAS ‘covered up fatal paramedic errors and deliberately altered or omitted important facts that families and the relevant coroners had a right to know.’ The whistle-blower alleged that they were bullied and victimised for raising these concerns but did not talk to the independent review team.  

This is not the first review into how NEAS operates, with the Care Quality Commission also publishing the outcome of its recent inspection but is the only one that takes a cross organisation view ‘to understand the culture and leadership systems that have led to the concerns being raised.’ The review sets out 15 recommendations for improvement and acknowledges that many areas of concern have been addressed and that there is a different leadership team in place.

Helen Ray, CEO of NEAS, responded to the publication of the findings of the independent review. Apologising for the distress caused to the families concerned ‘for mistakes made in the past’, she said there were flaws in the organisation’s processes and that many have been resolved with the recommendations being addressed ‘at pace’.

Addressing the whistle-blowing process, Ms Ray said, “We have strengthened the governance, systems and processes relating to investigations and coronial reports; and continue to monitor these to ensure the lessons have been learned. We have made it easier for issues to be flagged by increasing our resources for our Freedom to Speak Up team.”

Dame Marianne’s report highlighted the National Guardian’s speaking up review of ambulance services and ‘wider national concerns’ about the need to look at culture across the sector. In her report, Dame Marianne states that ‘some cultural issues have been found and some staff still report being frightened to raise concerns or to challenge those in authority.’

Ms Ray added that the review’s spotlight on funding for this small ambulance service was welcome. Commenting on the pressure on the ambulance service, she said, “Critical to our success is clear investment in our Trust. We are now beginning to see the results of the additional help we received last year in recruiting 58 extra paramedics and 106 call handlers over the last two years. The action we have taken is also recognised by the Care Quality Commission, who last week said we have begun to make the improvements that address their concerns.”

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