A report has revealed more than 50 patients died after an NHS Trust introduced a secret policy to downgrade emergency calls.
The East of England Trust’s decision to downgrade 999 calls between December 2013 and February last year led to 8,324 people waiting longer for treatment, including 57 who died.
Over the two month period, call centre managers at the Trust relaxed Department of Health guidelines without consulting senior management.
The new guidelines led to ambulances not being sent to several terminally ill patients as well as those who had given Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) instructions.
Patients who should have received emergency treatment within eight minutes were simply granted a telephone call from a clinical coordinator after they were downgraded by four categories.
The downgrades were only brought to light when call handlers raised their safety concerns with the newly appointed Chief Executive Anthony Marsh who then reinstated Department of Health guidelines.
The internal NHS report analysed a sample of more than 8,000 calls and discovered that a significant number that would normally be deemed to involve potentially life-threatening circumstances requiring an ambulance response within eight minutes were downgraded to require a 50-minute ambulance response or a simple phone assessment within 20 minutes.
An East of England Trust spokesman said 44 of the patients who died had given DNR instructions or were terminally ill and that the downgrades had not been responsible for their deaths.
Regardless of whether any of these deaths were a direct result of these downgrades, it is truly shocking that patients with life-threatening illnesses were being denied the treatment they needed due to call centre managers deciding to simply abandon national standards without the proper approval of senior managers.
What is certain is the report findings are extremely disturbing and that these downgrades even happened in the first place. As such, it is crucial a full independent investigation is conducted to ensure patient safety remains paramount.
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