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FoI response points to network updates for ambulance outage on England's south coast

November incident led to delays in emergency service dispatches

Exclusive An IT failure that led to a critical incident delaying ambulance dispatches from an NHS service in the south of England was down to network failures following routine maintenance, according to a Freedom of Information response.

During the outage in November, South East Coast Ambulance Service (Secamb) urged people to "consider alternatives to 999" while patients were prioritised based on the severity of their symptoms.

According to BBC reports at the time, the technical event held up ambulance dispatches.

Board meeting minutes from 25 November state: "At 8.30am on 17th November 2021, a Critical Incident was declared by the on-duty Strategic Commander following a significant IT issue which affected a number of our systems, including the Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) and our telephony systems.

"As a result, local and national contingency plans were put into place as work was underway to identify the issues and undertake the work necessary to bring all systems back online. This happened during the evening and the Critical Incident was stood down at 11.30pm."

The board heard how technical, resilience, and patient safety reviews into the episode had begun and that management would "ensure that any learning arising from these is acted upon moving forwards."

The CAD system went live in 2017 and was provided by Cleric Computer Services, according to a press release at the time.

But a Freedom of Information request sent by The Register indicates the network is more likely to be at fault.

The issues became apparent from 8:30am and related to planned maintenance work, the FoI reply confirmed. It also said the issue related to network infrastructure as more than one system was affected. Complete Networks provides support for the LAN and WAN at the ambulance service, although no blame is being attached to the supplier.

We've contacted Complete Networks for a response.

At the time of the outage, Unison southeast regional organiser Joshua Cooper told the BBC: "Ambulance and control room staff are working tirelessly to respond to every emergency call they receive and doing all they can to keep patients safe. Lengthy delays are causing much distress to NHS staff. Staff are already at breaking point after months of 'winter-style' pressures."

The Secamb outage came a week after a similar failure at East of England Ambulance Service Trust. ®


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