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Nine out of 10 ambulance trusts in England now at highest level of pressure

The equivalent of 90 full-time 12-hour shifts were lost with paramedics waiting outside hospital on Monday

Shaun Lintern
Health Correspondent
Friday 23 July 2021 18:35 BST
Nine out of 10 ambulance trusts in England are under extreme pressure
Nine out of 10 ambulance trusts in England are under extreme pressure (PA)

Nine out of the 10 ambulance trusts in England are now operating at their highest level of demand as the summer crisis hitting the NHS worsens.

The volume of 999 calls being made by the public, coupled with long delays at hospitals, is fuelling extraordinary waits for ambulances, in some cases as long as 29 hours in recent days.

In a new briefing to staff at the West Midlands Ambulance Service, shared with The Independent, chief executive Anthony Marsh said the situation was unlike anything he’s seen in his career.

It revealed nine out of 10 ambulance trusts are now under “extreme pressure” and operating at level 4 demand, previously known as a “black alert”.

The trust has now said that some 999 callers who are classed as urgent but not life-threatening will no longer be sent an ambulance unless and until a paramedic has spoken to the patient and confirmed one is necessary.

Some emergency calls are taking up to 10 minutes to be answered.

London Ambulance Service declared an incident on Monday as it faced being overwhelmed by 400 emergency calls in a single hour. It has been operating at an “extreme pressure” level since 17 June.

The West Midlands service saw a record 16,058 emergency calls over the last Friday-to-Sunday period, the first time it has ever hit 16,000 in the trust’s history.

Chief executive Anthony Marsh, who is also NHS England’s national strategic advisor for ambulance services, told staff: “The pressure being experienced by the trust is unlike anything I have seen in my 35 years in the ambulance service. It was already busy before we had an incredibly hot weekend, which just made matters worse.

“Hospitals continue to be a major concern for us with persistent long delays at some A&E departments. We are progressing as quickly as possible with the recruitment of additional staff, but I accept that this will not make a difference for some time.”

He said the trust had been forced to postpone five weeks of mandatory training for staff until February and March to maintain staffing levels.

The problem of delays at hospitals handing over patients to A&E staff is a persistent problem in the West Midlands but is also replicated across the country.

Managers at the East of England Ambulance Service told staff on Wednesday that it was declaring a critical incident and was looking into providing catering for staff stuck outside A&E departments.

On Monday, across the West Midlands, 1,100 hours was lost by paramedics waiting outside hospitals, the equivalent of 90 12-hour shifts lost to delays.

Dr Marsh said: “The figures speak for themselves – it is deeply troubling to see such numbers because we know this isn’t good for patients or staff. I know how frustrated you are by the situation and hopefully the measures outlined above will start to make a difference.”

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