Private ambulances at Horton maternity 'unsafe and neglected' claim

Former staff have complained about the ambulances provided for emergency transfer from the Horton maternity unit to Oxford
Former staff have complained about the ambulances provided for emergency transfer from the Horton maternity unit to Oxford

A former crew member for the dedicated ambulance at the Horton maternity unit has made a series of complaints about the private service.

The employee accused St John Ambulance (SJA) of supplying neglected and unsafe vehicles, inadequate crew facilities and problems with staffing.

Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust (OUH) contracted SJA in a £365k a year deal after the 2016 temporary downgrade to provide 24-hour transfer to Oxford for mothers whose birth becomes an emergency.

The crew member said cleaning facilities for inside and outside the vehicles were not provided and swabs on one occasion showed a 1400 infection control level when it should have been below 50.

He said vehicles could only be charged at Bicester and on one occasion a 999 ambulance had to transfer a delivering mother because the ambulance had been taken to Bicester to be made roadworthy.

SJA admitted this incident but denied other accusations.

Craig Harman of SJA said: “We strongly refute claims of inadequacy in the service. We are extremely proud of our crews who are trained to provide an exceptional level of care and rigorous measures are in place to ensure that standard is upheld.

“We are aware of some concerns raised by a former employee and would like to reassure the community these issues were thoroughly investigated.”

The unhappy crew member said the complaints were not from a single person; three former personnel and two current staff had also


l Lack of cleaning facilities resulting in possible infection risk to mothers and babies

l Lack of back-up staff; one worked 24 hours to ensure a colleague had support

l Vehicles badly maintained and possibly dangerous - steering, brakes, blue lights and batteries were issues

lOxygen in cylinders not maintained and sometimes there was none at Bicester for refills

l Brackets for large monitoring equipment were not fitted in one ambulance

l A crew member was allowed on shift without a criminal records checks certificate.

SJA said cleansing wipes and spray are provided and vehicles returned to Bicester for cleaning, re-stocking or replacement if necessary.

“Swab tests results have been examined and no readings at (the alleged) level have been found with no infection risk to patients.”

It said it found no evidence of anyone working a 24-hour shift. There had been five occasions in 1,010 shifts in 17 months when only one person was on shift.

SJA maintained a robust vehicle defect reporting procedure, it said.

When problems occur the vehicle is taken off the road, fixed, or swapped for another vehicle.

It said crews should complete a vehicle inspection including oxygen before shifts. Cylinders can be replaced at base.

On police checks, SJA said full and robust risk assessments are carried out before a final decision is made by SJA’s safeguarding team.

“We are aware of one occasion when a vehicle without an appropriate bracket for securing equipment was mistakenly assigned to this contract,” SJA said.

The unhappy crew member said: “Crew get a general induction at Bicester but no specific Horton midwife-led unit induction.

“We’ve gone back to Bicester to get oxygen replaced and there’s none left. The police records case crew member was told to do the shift and not tell colleagues but he did because he felt he needed to.”

He rejected the denial of the infection control figures.

Mr Harman said: “We have an excellent relationship with our colleagues at the Horton General Hospital and work closely with the midwives to ensure that patient care, undertaken on behalf of the Oxford University Hospitals, is at the forefront of everything we do.”

Sara Randall, for OUH, said: “Our midwives are responsible for the clinical care of mothers and babies during transfer by ambulance as well as in the hospital.”