Ambulances Queue Outside Hospitals, Endangering Lives

Ambulances queuing at the Royal London hospital last winter when many A&E departments were overwhelmed .

Paramedics in England cannot respond to an average of 117,000 urgent 999 calls every month because they are stuck outside hospitals looking after patients, new figures show.

The sheer amount of time ambulance crews had to wait outside A&E units meant they were unavailable to attend almost one in six incidents.

Long delays in handing sick people over to A&E staff means that 38,000 people may have been harmed last month alone – more than one in eight of the 292,000 who had to wait at least 15 minutes.

Of those left at risk of harm, 4,100 suffered potential “severe harm”, according to the bosses of England’s ambulance services.

The Care Quality Commission has warned in its annual report that the NHS is “gridlocked” and “in crisis” and that health service bosses fear long waits for care are so common that the risk of harm to those affected is “a worrying new status quo”.

The new data published by the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives (AACE) shows that crews were unavailable to attend about 4,000 incidents a day in September – about one in six of all 999 calls – because they were delayed for at least 15 minutes with a patient outside a hospital.

One patient had to wait 26 hours before being admitted to A&E to start treatment – the longest delay ever recorded.

It was reported yesterday that an unidentified patient died of a cardiac arrest in the back of an ambulance outside Fairfield general hospital in Bury, Greater Manchester, on Tuesday.

The hospital and North West ambulance service are investigating.

The AACE’s latest monthly statistical report on handover delays also shows that in September:

• A total of 673 patients had to wait 10 hours or more to be handed over to A&E staff – NHS guidelines say no one should wait more than 15 minutes.

• In addition, 45,000 patients were delayed for at least an hour and 21,000 for at least two hours – close to the highest numbers ever seen.

• While crews spent 558,000 hours attending incidents, they were unable to complete another 117,000 “job cycles”, which equates to 21% of total ambulance capacity – huge rises on the 45,000 job cycles or 7% of capacity seen in October 2019.

Martin Flaherty, the AACE managing director, said: “Our new data proves that hundreds of thousands of hours are being wasted each month by unnecessary handover delays at emergency departments.

In short, the situation has continued to deteriorate and is having an intolerable impact on our patients and staff.

“These unprecedented delays at hospital emergency departments are a twin threat.

“They cause significant harm to patients who are forced to wait in the back of our ambulances, while those resources are tied up and therefore unable to respond to patients who need us out in the community.”

Dr Adrian Boyle, the president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, which represents A&E doctors, urged ministers and NHS bosses to take decisive action to reduce the NHS’s overload.

“The urgent and emergency care system is failing patients and failing in its core function.

“Patients face long waits for an ambulance to arrive, long waits in emergency departments and long waits for a bed.

The NHS crisis demands leadership and requires decisions to be made to ensure the safety of patients.”

NHS England has been approached for comment.

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