£225k ambulance chief leaves after scandal over patient response delays


The chief executive of a scandal-hit ambulance trust, whose salary, pension and benefits package was worth more than £255,000 a year, has left his post.

Paul Sutton, who led South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust, has "left to pursue other interests", the trust said in a statement.

He had been on an agreed leave of absence after a damning report in March found "fundamental failings" over a scheme to delay ambulances to patients.

The secret project was "high risk" and did not have approval from board members, the 111 NHS helpline or commissioners, and up to 20,000 patients had ambulances delayed.

In a statement on Tuesday, the trust said: "South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust announces that chief executive Paul Sutton has now left the trust to pursue other interests.

"The trust would like to thank Paul for his contribution to the developments and achievements of the trust over the past 10 years.

"The process for finding a permanent replacement will start immediately and will be subject to further announcements as appropriate. In the interim period, Geraint Davies will continue as acting chief executive."

The trust's chairman, Tony Thorne, confirmed his resignation in March.

The annual accounts for the trust in 2014/15 show Mr Sutton received a salary of £160,000 to £165,000, plus £4,900 in other benefits and more than £90,000 in pension-related benefits.

His total package for the year was worth £255,000 to £260,000.

Mr Thorne was paid a salary of £40,000 to £45,000.

The Deloitte review in March said there was a strong suggestion of an "intentional effort by members of the executive team" to present their scheme in a positive light despite its governance failings and risks.

Executives ran their project - without approval - to delay sending ambulances until advisers had time to assess some calls coming through the 111 telephone system.

National rules say 75% of Category A Red 2 calls should have an emergency response at the scene within eight minutes.

These calls are for conditions regarded as serious, such as strokes or fits.

Under the controversial scheme, the ambulance trust gave itself up to 10 extra minutes to reassess what type of advice or treatment patients needed, and whether an ambulance was really necessary.

But patients were kept in the dark about the project, as were 111 call handlers and the trust's board.

The report said the "CEO made the ultimate decision to proceed with the pilot and played a critical leadership role throughout".

It was Mr Sutton who drove forward the idea of Red 2 calls being put through the pilot and he "now recognises" that commissioners who approved the project may not have "fully understood" its detail, it added.

In one conference call chaired by Mr Sutton in which Red 2 calls were added to the project, "objections were raised by senior managers on the call but (they) were ultimately persuaded by the CEO to include Red 2 calls in the pilot".

Mr Sutton was also approached separately by staff who had concerns about Red 2 calls being included in the plan but these "were not adequately addressed" and he instructed it should go ahead.

The report said: "The CEO's directive and persuasive management style, coupled with an impending restructure of the executive team, meant that the level of challenge over the pilot within the organisation was inhibited."

When interviewed, members of staff at the trust said the decision to reassess Red 2 calls "came from the top" and Mr Sutton had given a "direct instruction".

Investigators also concluded that managing the trust's ambulance response times - as set by national NHS targets - was a "driver" for the project.

Furthermore, Secamb submitted data to Monitor showing it had hit the target for Red 2 calls even though it had not.