South East Coast Ambulance on track to exit special measures

South East Coast Ambulance Service has said it is on track to be lifted out of special measures in May.

The organisation’s overall rating was downgraded from “good” to “requires improvement” by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) following an inspection in 2022.

Ray Savage, the ambulance service’s interim head of strategy, gave an update of its progress to a West Sussex County Council scrutiny committee meeting on 6 March.

He said: “We’ve turned a number of the ‘must do’s that came out of the CQC recommendations into ‘business as usual’. Our focus is now [on] sustaining them.”

South East Coast Ambulance Service covers East Sussex, West Sussex, Kent, Surrey, and North East Hampshire.

CQC inspectors in 2022 raised performance issues leading to the downgrading.

The service was placed into NHS England’s National Recovery Support programme, which set targets for answering and responding to calls, according to the BBC’s Local Democracy Reporting Service.

Mr Savage told the meeting that ambulance response times for some emergency calls (category 2), such as strokes and heart attacks, had “improved significantly”.

Figures for the most serious calls (category 1), which covers immediate life-threatening illnesses or injuries, were under target but above the national average.

Against a national target of seven minutes for category 1 calls, the service saw an average eight minutes, four seconds – better than the national average of eight minutes, 26 seconds.

Mr Savage credited the improvements to a number of factors, including better recruitment and retention of staff.

He said the service had also opened a new emergency response depot in Medway, Kent, for 999 and 111 calls.

Matthew Webb, the organisation’s associate director of strategic partnerships and system engagement, said exiting the recovery support programme was reliant a number of factors.

These included financial stability and having a “robust” leadership team to deliver a five-year strategy, which will be published in April.

He said: “The indicative (programme exit) date is May 2024 and we are working with commissioners and NHS England to look at how we are progressing along that trajectory.

“But there are some external factors that potentially could introduce some slippage into that date.”