The Health Secretary is “considering” launching an independent review about allegations of a cover-up at an ambulance trust.
North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) has been accused of covering up evidence about deaths linked to mistakes made by paramedics.
The Sunday Times reported that concerns were raised about more than 90 cases, with the paper saying whistleblowers believed NEAS had prevented relatives from knowing the full details about how their loved ones died in 2018 and 2019.
Sajid Javid told the Health and Social Care Committee of MPs: “I am very concerned about what I read and what I understand to be the situation and there has been a review by NHS England into this.
“What I am considering though is whether there should be a more independent review of the allegations that have been made.
“Those allegations deeply concern me, especially around potential cover ups, including of deaths, and that is something I take incredibly seriously.
“So I’m seriously considering at this point and have asked for advice on whether we should have an independent review.”
Meanwhile, Mr Javid was asked about the suggestion that another ambulance service could “collapse” in August due to current pressures.
He was told about one patient who was forced to wait for two hours for an ambulance in the West Midlands after having a heart attack.
“It’s a very worrying situation that we have seen in the West Midlands,” he said as he acknowledged that it is a “problem in many parts of the country”.
“Much of it is directly related to the impact of the pandemic, I talked about the delayed demand that is now coming back and it has made the flow through hospitals much more difficult than pre-pandemic.
“If you take delayed discharges, the more delayed discharges there are that flow from A&E can’t happen.
“So it’s often not about the shortage of ambulances, it is more about getting a flow so ambulances don’t get stuck waiting to release patients to the care of the A&E department.”
He said that there is “significant pressure” on A&E and ambulance service in the West Midlands adding: “The changes the NHS are making are having an impact”.
Meanwhile Mr Javid said that the backlog of care – some 6.3 million are waiting for pre-planned hospital care in England – will “go up before it comes down”, partly due to the fact that up to 12 million people “stayed away” from seeking NHS care due to the pandemic.
He also acknowledged that GPs are facing “incredible pressures” and condemned “completely unacceptable” attacks on GPs.
Mr Javid also conceded that the aim of getting 6,000 more GPs by 2024 would be a “difficult target to reach”.
He said his team were doing a review on how pharmacists could play a “bigger role” in their communities which is “partly the answer” to reduce GP pressures.
The 15-year NHS workforce strategy will include numbers of staff needed for the future, he added.
Meanwhile, NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard told MPs that despite considerable increases in workforce over the last few years, it is “not enough”.
“I think we recognise at the moment that the NHS is under considerable pressure, we’re carrying about 100,000 vacancies at the moment,” she said.
“And that’s despite having more staff, of course than we’ve had before.
“So we’ve had a significant increase in numbers over the last couple of years. But it’s not enough.”