Northamptonshire's air ambulance charity welcomes positive CQC report

Air Ambulance Service chief executive Andy Williamson (bottom left)
Air Ambulance Service chief executive Andy Williamson (bottom left)

The Air Ambulance Service charity has welcomed a Care Quality Commission (CQC) report into the standard of emergency and urgent care it provides following a comprehensive inspection of services.

The report highlights the exceptional work of The Air Ambulance Service which provides the national Children’s Air Ambulance and two local air ambulances – Warwickshire & Northamptonshire Air Ambulance (WNAA) and Derbyshire, Leicestershire & Rutland Air Ambulance (DLRAA).

The good news will be welcomed by the Air Ambulance Service after recent Sunday Times allegations claimed its chief executive Andy Williamson had used charity resources for his own benefit. A seperate investigation was enacted by the Charities Commision last month.

In the report, the CQC - the independent regulator of health and social care in England - praised the services for being “doctor lead and highly skilled”, and refers to a “high level of paramedic critical care expertise”, supported by an effective personal development system, a range of clinical skills development opportunities and specialist clinical operating procedures.

The regulator also describes the organisation’s leaders as having the “skills, knowledge, experience and integrity needed to ensure the vital service meets patient needs”.

Mr Williamson said: "I’m delighted with this report; it clearly supports our purpose by recognising the high quality of emergency and urgent care that we deliver.

“These findings are a testament to the dedicated, professional and passionate teams that work in the delivery of our lifesaving services and to those generous people who support the charity through the giving of time or donations.

“Providing the very best care for our patients is the driving force behind everything we do and this report reflects that. Everyone involved should be immensely proud.”

During its inspection, the CQC asked five key questions across all services: are they safe, effective, caring, responsive to people’s needs and well led. Inspectors spent two days reviewing the Children’s Air Ambulance and WNAA at Coventry Airport, and DLRAA at East Midlands Airport.

Patients have access to timely and critical care treatment, the report details, while care is delivered in a “sensitive and dignified way and feedback from patients is very positive”. It also refers to the “clear vision and strategy” of the organisation.

All services are described as having an “open and learning culture which is fully focused on safe, high quality patient care”. Staffing levels and skill mix are planned and reviewed to ensure that people receive safe care and treatment at all times, and staff are fully engaged in service planning.

TAAS director of operations Richard Clayton said: “I am absolutely delighted by the CQC inspector’s findings. The published reports are a great reflection on a lot of hard work by the entire operations team that works tirelessly to provide exceptional patient care in often very challenging situations.

“It’s fantastic that the inspectors were able to see and articulate the passion and commitment that exists within everyone at The Air Ambulance Service.”

The CQC did identify areas where the ambulance service needed to improve. It found the safeguarding adults’ policy referenced out of date guidance. This was raised with the registered manager during the inspection who took immediate action to update the policy.

Inspectors also found aircraft pilots had not had safeguarding training. "We told the provider that it should make other improvements, even though a regulation had not been breached, to help the service improve," states the report.

Deputy Clinical Lead Justin Squires, who worked closely with the CQC inspector on the report, said: “Our air ambulance and rapid response services work tirelessly to save lives – it’s our absolute motivation.

“To know the services we provide have been meticulously inspected and proven to be of the highest standard is a real credit to the critical care teams and the way we are continually looking to enhance provision.

“This excellent feedback strongly supports our belief that we are doing the very best for our patients and delivering care of the highest calibre.”

The report was well-received by NHS clinical partners for both the Children’s Air Ambulance and DLRAA and WNAA services.

Peter Ripley, associate director of operations for East Midlands Ambulance Service, said: “The Warwickshire & Northamptonshire Air Ambulance is an integral part of the wider team with which we work to provide quality emergency care to our patients.

"This CQC report recognises the standard of care, professionalism and support offered to not only our patients but also our frontline colleagues at the scene."

Steve Wheaton, deputy chief executive for West Midlands Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust, said: “The local Warwickshire & Northamptonshire Air Ambulance has always had high quality emergency care at the heart of what it does and this CQC report offers great recognition of that fact.

“We have worked closely together for the past 15 years in providing the highest standard of critical care, within minutes, to those in greatest need.“

Dr Steve Hancock, lead consultant paediatrician at Embrace, the NHS transport team for new-born babies and children in Yorkshire and the Humber, said: We have worked with The Children’s Air Ambulance for a number of years now to transfer some of our patients quickly and safely over long distances. They have always had high quality provision of healthcare at the centre of what they do and we are delighted that this has been recognised by the CQC.”

Lead transport nurse for South Thames Retrieval Service (STRS), Karen Starkie, added: “We have worked closely with The Children’s Air Ambulance, since February 2014, to fly critically unwell babies and children in their bespoke children’s air ambulance to a preferred paediatric intensive care unit.

“The charitably funded service they provide to paediatric critical care teams, sick children and families is of a very high standard and we are delighted that this has been recognised by the CQC.”