London Ambulance Service’s chief executive today insisted it was well-prepared to deal with a Paris-style terror attack despite it becoming the first in the country to be rated “inadequate” by the NHS watchdog.
Dr Fionna Moore said the LAS was reviewing its capacity to respond to “conventional and multi-site incidents”, such as “active shooters” at a concert venue such as the Bataclan, where 89 of the 130 Paris victims were killed.
She sought to reassure Londoners after the LAS became the first ambulance service in the country to be put into special measures after inspectors rated its resilience to major incidents, and its overall standard of emergency care, to be inadequate.
Dr Moore told the Standard: “We are absolutely convinced that our response in the event of a major incident would be very robust.”
Specialist teams of paamedics have been formed to deal with gun attacks, and 20 ambulances and 10 officers would be immediately dispatched to any terrorist incident, she said.
The Care Quality Commission inspection, which was carried out in June, found there were “not enough staff” to ensure patients were safe, as a result of more than 400 front-line vacancies.
Since then, 167 extra staff have been recruited and 82 of the 84 specialist posts on the hazardous area response team [HART] have been filled.
CQC chief inspector Sir Mike Richards said the staffing concerns were so serious that he had issued the LAS with an improvement notice last month, giving it until the end of November to reduce the vacancy rate.
The LAS has not hit national monthly targets for responding to 999 calls within eight minutes since March 2014, and for the last six months has been the worst in the country at reaching the most serious of these calls.
Crews typically arrive at incidents two minutes late due to staff and vehicle shortages and the scale of the demand – the LAS attends more than one million incidents a year. However, when crews do arrive, the CQC rates the quality of their care as “good”.
Sir Mike told the Standard he “had concerns” about the LAS’s ability to respond to a terror attack at the time of the inspection “because of their overall staffing levels and staffing within the HART team”.
He said: “We obviously fed back to the LAS immediately… telling them they had to improve. We do know that many efforts have been made since then. We are in a very different place now.”
He denied that placing the LAS in special measures would reduce already low morale and make it more difficult for it to recruit paramedics. Inspectors heard numerous staff complain about bullying and intimidation.
Sir Mike said: “Quite often the staff say, ‘Thank goodness, at last somebody has recognised what is happening.’ They actually thank us for doing it. They know that things will start getting better.”
The extent of the criticism of the LAS sparked widespread political comment. Labour, the Greens and the Lib-Dems all called for it to be brought under the Mayor’s control.
Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander, whose raising of concerns about LAS performance at Prime Minister’s questions precipitated the departure of previous chief executive Ann Radmore in January, said the report was “deeply worrying”.
She said: “The findings of this inspection report show that Londoners have been badly let down.”
Labour mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan said: “I’m demanding the Government now give the Mayor the responsibility for London’s ambulance service, bringing it in line with our other blue-light services like police and fire. The Tories aren’t giving Londoners the ambulance service they need and deserve, and we must take action to change that.”
Lib-Dem mayoral candidate Caroline Pidgeon said: “It is time for the London Ambulance Service to be brought under the oversight and the control of the Mayor and London Assembly as a Functional Body just as the Metropolitan Police Service and the London Fire Brigade already are.”