The London Ambulance Service: a critical study on the failure story

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      The London Ambulance Service, largest among the world, had attempted to introduce a computer-aided despatch system to overcome their operational difficulties and meet the performance requirements of Operational Research Consultancy (ORCON). The project, due to operational and strategic flaws at various levels, was a failure. The report identifies the flaws to produce a lessons learnt report with respect to failure of the London Ambulance Service computer-aided despatch system (LAS CAD).

1 Introduction:

To specify the service, LAS covers an area over 600 sq miles, serves a resident population of 6.8 m people, receiving 2000-2500 phone calls a day, where, 1300 to 1600 are emergency ‘999’ calls. Service has 2700 staff and over 750 ambulances. With a budget of £69.7 m, LAS is largest in world.

Performance Requirements – Reasons for taking a CAD system:

According to ORCON’s standards, the instructions should be given to the ambulance station or crew within 3 min and an ambulance should arrive at the scene within 14 min. This is a critical requirement, which can not be practically met with the manual system of activating emergency services. Lack of information and poor quality of communication with the crews were key concerns along with handling problems arising with organization, over-manning and operational cost of LAS.

Being aware of the complete manual system LAS attempted to introduce a computer-aided despatch system (CAD) in 1980s, but was abandoned due to lack of satisfactory performance during load testing. A new team was formed in 1990 to work out a new CAD system.

 The system was commissioned 9 months late and failed within 2 weeks. There were flaws at Project Management and Organizational level which led to the failure of the system.

2. Problems Encountered - Lessons Learnt:

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The management made an appreciable step in identifying a system which can help LAS meet nationally recognized ORCON’s performance requirements. But, there were some necessary changes in terms of structure and operational management which were supposed to be done in order to manage the project successfully.

Problems were to be rectified in organizational and Project Management level.

2.1 Organizational Level:

The choice of CAD is termed just as a buy and fix project by LAS, but it was major innovation which needed a business re-engineering approach.

2.1.1 Efficient Human Resource Management:


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