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News : East of England Ambulance 999 Downgrade Period Saw Patients Die
Norfolk, England Jan 12, 2015 -- Dozens of patients whose 999 calls were downgraded by an ambulance emergency centre died, a report has revealed.
Despite calls to the East of England Trust ambulances were either not sent or came late to 57 patients who died.
Guidelines were relaxed by call centre managers without consultation between 18 December 2013 and 22 February 2014.
An incident report said ambulances were not sent to some patients with terminal illness and others who had given Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) instructions.
Only one family who did not receive an ambulance made a complaint.
Last week the trust admitted 8,324 patients were affected by the rule changes, which lasted more than two months.
Shock over treatment
"A patient suffering headache symptoms who was triaged (assessed) as suitable for a clinical call-back would have received an ambulance response prior to the change in code sets (priorities)," a spokesman said.
Forty-four of the patients who died had a DNR and 13 were expected deaths, he added.
Some who should have been seen within eight minutes were downgraded by four categories to just receiving a telephone call from a clinical co-ordinator, the incident report said.
Downgrades came to light when call handlers raised safety concerns to the newly-appointed chief executive Anthony Marsh.
He reinstated the Department of Health guidelines.
"Our paramedics cannot give treatment to those patients with a DNR or provide the support their family needs at this difficult time," the spokesman said.
"Sending an ambulance when we cannot clinically help the patient can extend the family's distress unnecessarily."
Denise Burke, a campaigner over poor ambulance responses in north Norfolk, said: "What is most shocking is the way patients who were near the end of life were treated.
"We need to know whether their death was accelerated by the downgrading of the calls."
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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More Editorial From East of England Ambulance Service
About East of England Ambulance Service:
The East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust is the authority responsible for providing National Health Service (NHS) ambulance services in the counties of Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk and Suffolk, in the East of England region. It is one of 12 Ambulance Trusts providing England with emergency medical services, and is part of the NHS, receiving direct government funding for its role. There is no charge to patients for use of the service, and under the Patient's Charter every person in the United Kingdom has the right to the attendance of an ambulance in an emergency.
Published: Tuesday, January 13, 2015