AMBULANCE bosses have been told they must make improvements after an inspection showed handover times contributed to serious incidents and staff morale was low.

Inspectors from the Care Quality Commission rated the East of England Ambulance Service as Requires Improvement following a visit in March.

The trust was rated as Requires Improvement for whether the service was safe, effective and well-led but Outstanding for whether it was caring.

Chief Inspector of Hospitals Ted Baker said some improvements had been made since the last inspection in April 2017 but there was still work to be done.

He said: “Our inspectors found some progress had been made at the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust, since our previous inspection, but that a number of improvements were still clearly needed.

“We found improvements had been made with regard to safeguarding, staff understanding of the Mental Capacity Act and incident reporting procedures.

"But the trust still did not meet national ambulance response standards and over the winter period delays resulted in a number of serious incidents.

“We were also concerned that, at the time of our inspection, staff morale was low.

"People working at the trust described a culture of late shift finishes, frustration at not being able to provide the service they wanted to due to pressures on the trust and disengagement between front line staff and the senior management team.

"People said they did not always feel valued, particularly after what had been an exhausting winter.

“However, we found a number of areas of outstanding practice and that staff were overwhelmingly caring and dedicated to providing the best care they could to patients.

"People who used the service also gave positive feedback.

“We fed our findings back to the trust immediately after our inspection, citing the areas where improvements must be made as a priority, and we have been monitoring the trust, working closely with NHS Improvement and other stakeholders, to help drive through improvements.

“The trust leadership knows what action it must take to bring about improvement and we will return to inspect and check on its progress.”

Inspectors warned staff must be appropriately mentored and supported but praised the use of a clinical app which gave people up to date clinical guidance and access to information about care pathways.

There has also been an escalation policy to reduce handover delays introduced late last winter.

Ambulance service chief executive Robert Morton said: "The team inspected our Trust during the most challenging winter for the NHS on record, and just weeks after a risk summit called for the NHS system in the region to work together to improve patient experience.

"We worked with all our regulators, including the CQC, from very early on in this period to ensure we were open and honest with all the challenges we were facing and how we were leading the system to improve services to patients.

“The improvements the CQC saw were in some areas of the patient transport services and our emergency operations centres where we handle and triage 999 calls.

"I’d like to thank everyone who welcomed the inspection team and gave their views, supported our colleagues in providing a wealth of data and information to the CQC before, during and after the inspection, and represented the ‘We Are EEAST’ approach to our caring and compassionate work.”

"“The CQC inspected the Trust at a time when staff were extremely tired and under pressure.

"There will always be room for improvement.

"We are aware of the many challenges we face here in the east.

"Engaging with our staff, across a virtual organisation which is spread out across a an area of 7,500 square miles, can be a huge task.

"Our workforce are highly mobile and travel approximately 12million miles a year supporting or delivering the best care we can to patients.

"We are working to ensure the leaders at every level in our organisation are given the time and space to build effective, communicative teams at a local level – particularly during tough periods like winter.

"Given the highly virtual and mobile nature of our workforce, we must be innovative about how we can engage our workforce who do not work in a single large site like a hospital.

" The care we provide for them means we’re in the best position ever to provide the modern, high-quality and sustainable health services our communities need.

"With the right investment, including £11.5m of additional funding this year - we will get better and better.”