Patients were put at risk when ambulance drivers tampered with GPS trackers to make vehicles unavailable for emergency call-outs, a tribunal has heard.
Carl Hudghton, 29, switched off his ambulance’s Mobile Data Terminal (MDT) three times in 2014 and on Monday admitted his actions could have had “catastrophic” repercussions.
At least 10 Guildford-based paramedics are being investigated for resetting MDT devices after one vehicle went missing for three hours, creating a gaping hole in the hospital’s tracking system.
Greg Foxsmith, for the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), said: “The registrant (Hudghton) was employed by the South East Coast Ambulance Service in Guildford.
“He tampered with the ambulance’s MDT, meaning the Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) record was inaccurate.
“AVL is a GPS system which records the ambulances and the controllers were not informed of the location of ambulances at the relevant time in order to deliver ambulances to the relevant locations.
“This is the result of deliberate tampering on three occasions.
“On 3 May there was a service user (patient) in a potentially life-threatening situation, but an ambulance three miles away had to attend instead.
“It became apparent to the ambulance services that misconduct had arisen.
“Inquiries were held against various people within the ambulance service.
“We suggest that this amounts to misconduct and dishonesty.”
Hudghton was recorded as being on Gill Avenue at the Royal Surrey Hospital on April 18, 2014 when he was actually several miles away, the hearing was told.
The student paramedic was then recorded as being at the ambulance station when he was really travelling from Yew Tree Drive to London Road on May 3, 2014.
On that occasion, an ambulance a mile away from the incident had to be scrambled and the eight-minute response time goal was not met.
Hudghton ‘appalled’ at actions
Hudghton, who claimed he switched off the tracker because he had a stomach ache, told the hearing: “I acknowledge that what I did was wrong – at the end of the day it was my decision to go along with it.
“I had my reasons for why I did it but that is no excuse – I don’t look to excuse what happened at all.
“I am appalled at my actions.
“Throughout my career paramedics have not always been given the opportunity to take a break.
“I felt if I had phoned and asked to take a break, then been refused, it would have made things worse – I felt I had to continue.
“If it happened again I would put my trust in the control room and going forward I would find somebody to report this malpractice.
Potentially catastrophic repercussions
“The main risk is that somebody needs an ambulance and no one is there to attend – the repercussions can be catastrophic.
“So much of what paramedic and health care providers do is based on trust – an assumed trust – and breaching that trust could be detrimental to working relationships and patients.”
Charles Elton, representing Hudghton, said: “There was a culture at Guildford station of tampering with MDTs.
“On one of the occasions Mr. Hudghton was accused of tampering with the MDT, the device was turned off between 18.09 and 18.18.
“A vehicle was allocated to the incident at 18.17, meaning there was only a one minute gap during which Mr. Hudghton was unavailable.”
Long line of incidents
Dispatch Team Leader Sarah McReith said: “Carl’s case was the latest in a long line of incidents.
“One did involve a Clinical Team Leader, acting or otherwise.
“The system ensures a vehicle arrives at a scene in the shortest amount of time possible.
“Any incidents that crews are allocated to appear on that terminal – the AVL is turned on all the time.
“Looking at the one minute gap, you have to take into account that the call would have been put on hold for around three minutes.
“If paramedics haven’t had a food break half an hour before their shift ends, they are permitted to go off duty to eat.
“If someone needs the toilet en route to a job, we will note a delay.
“If they are feeling unwell they are given the time to take Paracetamol or whatever else and discuss with the management as to whether they will go off shift or not.”
Affects safety of staff and patients
Clinical operation manager Andrew Patterson said: “There are a number of members of staff who are tampering with MDT devices.
“It started with one particular employee, and then all the people who worked with that employee were investigated.
“Tampering with the system affects the safety of ambulance crews as well as patients.
“If a crew member had been assaulted or had suffered an accident, it is possible that the controllers would not have been notified for some time.
“What we are finding is paramedics turning off their MDT on the way back to their station.”
Asked about Hudghton’s claim that his team at Guildford Ambulance Station was “quite small but quite intimidating”, Mr. Patterson replied: ‘I was bullied myself as a child and it is not appropriate in a work environment.
“I hope that anyone who felt bullied would speak to their manager.”
An investigation into the MDT tampering was launched on 10 July 2014.
Mr. FoxSmith added: “The investigation was part of something a little wider and there were a number of cases being looked at.
“It is the duty of the emergency services to promote and protect the interests of service users and maintain high standards.
“They must make sure behaviour doesn’t damage the public’s confidence in ambulance services.”
Hudghton, who since left the Guildford Ambulance Station, accepts all allegations but rejects that his fitness to practice is impaired. The hearing continues.
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