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Secamb Chief Executive departs.


The chief executive of an NHS ambulance trust which was severely criticised after it came under under intense scrutiny about how it handled emergency callouts has left his job.

Paul Sutton, who had been on a leave of absence from South East Coast Ambulance Service (Secamb), has said that he will now pursue other interests.

His departure follows the emergence last year that Secamb ran a secret and controversial pilot scheme that delayed sending help for some urgent category calls to sick members of the public in order to present a better overall picture of its performance.

A review by Deloitte said failings in how the trust was run led to the "high risk" project. The pilot did not have approval from board members, the 111 NHS helpline or commissioners and up to 20,000 patients had their ambulances delayed.

Secamb provides NHS 111 services across the southeast coastal region and responds to 999 calls. Some 111 calls were transferred to the 999 system to give Secamb more time for more urgent calls.

The calls affected were in the second most serious category - Category A Red 2 - which covers conditions such as strokes or fits but which are less critical than where people are ‘non-responsive’.

Under NHS rules, calls designated life-threatening are supposed to receive an ambulance response within eight minutes. However, the trust allowed itself an extra 10 minutes to deal with some calls by "re-triaging" – reassessing the priority – of some patients in the 999 system.

Secamb said the process for finding a permanent replacement would start immediately and in the meantime acting chief executive, Geraint Davies, would remain in post.

The Secamb chairman, Tony Thorne, resigned from his job when the review by Deloitte was made public.

The review said there was a strong suggestion of an "intentional effort by members of the executive team to present their scheme in a positive light despite its governance failings and risks.

"The CEO made the ultimate decision to proceed with the pilot and played a critical leadership role throughout".

Patients' Association chief executive, Katherine Murphy, said: "Any decision that downgrades urgent category ambulance calls in order to massage performance targets is deplorable.

"This scheme was dangerous. It is right that the leaders of Secamb are held responsible for their actions. The trust should apologise to all those affected and the NHS should ensure this never occurs again at any trust."