Len McCluskey: Time to lift lid on ambulance chiefs’ failures

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WHEN a triple leg break ended the cup final hopes of 22-year-old rugby league player Adam Robson the other day, it took an excruciating two and a half hours before he could be loaded into an ambulance.

Adam spent so long lying on the frozen pitch, waiting for the ambulance to arrive, that he began suffering from suspected hypothermia.

Sadly Adam’s story is not an isolated case.

Appallingly, paramedics who have warned for years of patients’ lives potentially being put at risk by decisions made at the top of the Yorkshire Ambulance Service have been targeted and gagged by senior management and their board.

They have been subject to trumped-up disciplinary action and seen their union agreement torn up as they have relentlessly sought to expose the truth to the public. The story is one of systemic failure, mad-cap reform and allegations of cover-ups by an incompetent and chaotic management team.

The Care Quality Commission – the chief inspector of NHS services – will start its most rigorous assessment to date of the Yorkshire Ambulance Service today. We are calling for enforcement action to be taken against the Board to protect patients. The catalogue of failure is staggering.

Between October 2013 and October 2014, they failed to achieve the basic national standard for emergency response times in 11 out of 12 months.

Emergency care assistants with only a fraction of the training of their qualified colleagues are being sent to urgent and emergency calls without a qualified paramedic.

“Whistle-blowers”, who wish to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal, have made allegations of emergency call-out data being manipulated to cover-up systemic failure to reach targets.

Not content with presiding over such incompetence, astoundingly this failed board believes it now deserves more power and greater autonomy over a service critical to the lives of five million people.

They are currently in the final stages of their application to become a Foundation Trust which would give the board greater powers, including the authority to increase the pay of senior management, the ability to borrow money and the right to generate up to 49 per cent of their revenue from private income.

This would be a reward for failure. The management team of the Yorkshire Ambulance Service needs more intervention and oversight, not less.

Unlike other ambulance 
trusts and foundation trusts, the senior management of the Yorkshire Ambulance Service have refused to disclose their 
full business plans for the next five years.

That is because what they contain will cause public outrage throughout Yorkshire and Humberside. Paramedic numbers are to be slashed by over 10 per cent, the ambulance fleet is to be slashed by over 15 per cent and closures of ambulance stations are planned.

There has been no consultation and they have no mandate. The public exposure of their failings and their plans that could put patients at risk is why they are targeting “whistle-blowers” and their union.

The response of the management team to the frontline paramedics who have blown the whistle, and their union who have sought to expose the truth has been brazen. They have lied about arranging meetings with my union over patient safety – no meetings have taken place. They have encouraged stakeholders to ignore our claims. They won’t even deal with issues that are critical to the safety of patients at a senior level – instead sending out HR to deal with what they clearly regard to be an insignificant “problem”.

The last chief executive left suddenly and under what now appears to be a cloud – they won’t release any details regarding his departure. Now the new interim chief executive, Rod Barnes, and the chair of the board, Della Canning, are refusing to deal with the problems exposed by the “whistle-blowers” and their union.

Without intervention and change, cases like Adam’s are in danger of becoming the norm for the people of Yorkshire and the Humber. No more rewards for failure – now it is time for the regulators to act.

Len McCluskey is the Unite General Secretary.