UK South East Coast Ambulance slammed for creaking emergency dispatch IT

Control centre staff reverting to pen and paper, says union

Ambulance

Ambulance service union the GMB has called for an urgent review of the UK's South East Coast Ambulance’s computerised dispatch system for control centre staff handling emergency calls.

The union says staff have reported constant loading errors and regular system crashes that leave dispatchers unable to answer calls, contact ambulances and despatch resources within the required times putting patient safety at risk.

Emergency operation centre staff have been forced to revert to pen and paper, taking down patients' details from another operations centre after a full system failure, said the union. They are then forced to call ambulance staff to allocate calls and to communicate triage and patient location information in person.

Gary Palmer, GMB regional organiser, said: "Ongoing issues with the computerised display system are serious and yet, although data on failures is recorded for executives, nothing has been done to correct, repair or replace the system altogether."

Yesterday, health watchdog the Care Quality Commission issued a warning notice to South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust telling it to make significant improvements in the quality of its services.

Among the issues it identified were NHS 111 calls not always responded to in a timely and effective manner.

A South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust spokesman said the Trust’s computer aided dispatch (CAD) system is regularly maintained and upgraded to address issues identified by staff.

“We do recognise that system issues can cause frustration for staff but these matters are subject to review by a project group which is looking to further improve the performance of the CAD.

“Fortunately critical issues with the system are rare and the impact on patients is minimal. However, the Trust is keen to improve the CAD’s reliability and is working hard to address this."

He said the system had faced unprecedented demand in the first half of this year, responding to approximately 30,000 more calls than the same period last year.

He added the Trust is addressing the issues identified by the CQC. ®

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