Henfield Area Response Team (HART) chairman claims lives could be at risk due to ongoing communication problems by the South East Coast Ambulance Service (SECAmb).
Dick Nye has stepped forward to share his concerns about nearly two years of issues involving SECAmb’s SMS text messaging service, which have left him ‘frustrated’ and ‘disappointed’.
He says these ‘time wasting’ issues include receiving texts to locations outside of Henfield’s catchment area; multiple messages sent to off-duty responders and situations where SECAmb has failed to turn up to the scene after contacting the volunteers and asking them to attend.
Mr Nye is concerned that there are problems in SECAmb’s control room that could result in the loss of lives.
He explained: “There seems to be a sense of breakdown in communications.
“Without us potentially someone would die. I know that sounds dramatic, but we have to be there rapidly. There’s a very limited window of opportunity when someone has a heart attack.
“The system has proved annoying to us and the Partridge Green responder group too.”
HART’s volunteer responders covers a BN5 postcode area controlled from Lewes, and Partridge Green covers a RH postcode area controlled from Banstead, Surrey, but Mr Nye said these locations have proven to ‘overlap’.
“So for us we have this annoying situation where Partridge Green responders come to Henfield and we haven’t had the message and vice versa, but even more annoying is that both groups have been sent to the same incident.
“It does mean that if a serious incident occurs in Partridge Green and they’re here, then there won’t be anyone available to respond.”
Another concern Mr Nye had expressed is receiving callouts in the night that are not relevant to Henfield.
“At night between 2am and 4am I was asked to attend places as far as Chatham and Gillingham in Kent.
“When I’m on call and I know I don’t need to go it doesn’t matter, but if it wakes me up in the middle of the night pointlessly, again it’s annoying.”
Serious claims have also been made where responders have been sent to incidents without back-up, putting their own safety at risk.
“You can never be certain when a call comes in what you’re going to find at the other end in fairness.
“We’re only supposed to be a stop-gap between a call coming in and the assets from SECAmb arriving, but responders were dispatched on at least two occasions where no back-up was sent from the ambulance service.”
In one particular incident involving Mr Nye, the 63-year-old had to wait at a location for two hours before police arrived - he said SECAmb ‘did not show’. Fortunately, the situation turned out to be non life-threatening.
Launched in 2004, the independent charity was set up to tackle the problem of sudden death in the Henfield community.
The nine local voluntary trained responders answer to emergency calls around the clock, and at least one responder is on call at a time.
A meeting is held on the second Tuesday of every month between HART and SECAmb. Mr Nye said a representative from the ambulance service said the issues will be looked into, but he is worried it will take longer.
“Our frustrations stem from the length of time it seems to have to taken to address the issues,” he added.
The concerns of the HART organisation have been put to SECAmb by the County Times. At the time of going to press no response had been received.
In response, media relations manager at SECAmb, Richard Airey, said: “Having spoken to my colleagues in voluntary services I can confirm that we have been working closely with the Henfield Community First Responder (CFR) scheme to address the concerns they have raised.
“SECAmb uses SMS text messages to communicate and dispatch our CFRs from our Emergency Operations Centres (EOCs). This reduces the number of telephone calls into our three EOCs and ensures that there are no delays in answering 999 calls. When they are available to respond to calls in the local area, CFRs are required to contact the EOC and book on to respond.
“We provide dedicated support to our CFRs through our response desk which we aim to have manned 24/7. However, when 999 calls are high, priority has to be given to answering the potentially life threatening calls coming into the EOCs, meaning staff manning the response desk may on occasion need to answer 999 calls. As a result, we recognise that sometimes it may be difficult to get through to the dedicated response desk.”
A spokesperson at SECAmb said: “South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SECAmb) values the incredible contribution Community First Responders (CFRs) make to their local communities on a daily basis. We take any concerns raised very seriously and we are working closely with the Henfield Community First Responder scheme to address them.
“Between April and November of this year SECAmb assigned CFRs to approximately 15,000 patients across our Sussex, Surrey and Kent region. During the same period we received 15 reported call centre issues. Despite the low numbers in relation to the number of activations, we thoroughly investigate each incident and act on the findings.
“While the overall numbers of reported issues are low we recognised the concerns and invited all CFR team leaders who were experiencing issues to a meeting at the end of October, which the Chairman and Team Leader of the Henfield scheme both attended. As a result of that meeting, a further meeting was arranged with relevant senior managers from within the Trust and we have worked hard to resolve any issues and frustrations being experienced by our CFRs. A new procedure to resolve many of these issues is expected to be finalised before the end of January.”