Ambulance trust chairman resigns before regulator publishes report into call handling scandal

Posted On 14 Mar 2016 at 8:11 pm

The chairman of the ambulance trust that serves Brighton and Hove has resigned as a regulator prepares to publish a critical report about the 111 call handling scandal.

Tony Thorne had been suspended from his position at the South East Coast Ambulance Service (SECAmb) as had chief executive Paul Sutton. Mr Sutton initially went on leave.

Tony Thorne

Tony Thorne

Tomorrow (Tuesday 15 March) the regulator Monitor is expected to publish a critical report about the way that the trust dealt with some calls to the 111 non-emergency number.

Mr Sutton is expected to be blamed for a policy change that built in delays before calls requiring an emergency response were put through to 999 call handlers.

According to a leaked draft of the Monitor report two weeks ago, the secret policy may have been a factor in up to 25 patients’ deaths.

Mr Thorne is believed to have been left out of the loop when a small executive team decided to pursue the controversial call handling project.

It built in delays and bought more time for ambulance crews when the service was severely stretched.

Paul Sutton

Paul Sutton

Critics say that ambulance chiefs were trying to make the trust’s response time performance appear better than it was.

An interim chief executive is believed to have been lined up to step in once the report by Monitor is published tomorrow.

Mr Sutton joined the ambulance service in 1990 and is a qualified paramedic who worked his way up to the top, becoming chief executive of SECAmb ten years ago. He was previously chief executive of the Sussex Ambulance Service.

A profile on the trust’s website said: “Paul has adopted an innovative approach to improving ambulance services in England.”

Mr Thorne joined the SECAmb board in 2011 having previously been chief executive of DS Smith, the international packaging company and one of the biggest businesses in Britain.

He spent part of his career as an oil company executive and was the president of Shell in Mexico.

The trust did not respond to requests for a comment this evening (Monday 14 March).

  1. Healthwatch Brighton and Hove Reply

    We urge patients and the public to get in touch about their experiences on South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SECAmb). The Trust responds to 999 calls from the public, urgent calls from healthcare professionals, provide NHS 111 services across the region and in Surrey and Sussex they provide non-emergency patient transport services (pre-booked patient journeys to and from healthcare facilities).

    We will use that information to inform our further work and we will share it with the Care Quality Commission.

    If you would like to share them with us call 01273 23 40 40, email: or click here: to submit a comment online.

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