NHS 111 scandal: 25 deaths blamed on ambulance delays

The Telegraph published an exclusive report on an investigation of 25 patient deaths following a whistleblower’s revelation that a policy of 111 managers resulted in delayed help for seriously ill patients.

Senior managers at South East Coast Ambulance trust were warned repeatedly that their “rogue operation” was risking lives, yet the secret policy was allowed to continue, the Telegraph’s source said. Documents seen by The Telegraph show how the consequences of the unauthorised policy of deliberately delaying ambulances to thousands of patients suffering from potentially fatal conditions were covered up.

Under NHS rules, calls designated as “life-threatening” are supposed to receive an ambulance response within eight minutes regardless of whether the caller dials 999 or the non-emergency 111 line. But the ambulance trust, which covers Sussex, Kent, Surrey and North East Hampshire, “unilaterally” invented its own system resulting in the routine downgrading of 111 calls, giving paramedics an extra 10 minutes to attend.

Under the secret protocols, for more than two months, thousands of 111 callers were forced to wait up to twice as long, effectively punishing patients for calling the non-emergency number.

Health watchdogs are investigating the trust to uncover how many patients may have been harmed by the delays between last December and February.

This newspaper has established that an NHS investigation was told of 25 deaths of patients whose ambulance response was believed to have been delayed under the policy. Since then there has been a dispute about how many deaths occurred among patients who were treated under the policy.

Full story in The Telegraph 30 October 2015