Hospitals told to stop ‘catastrophic’ ambulance delays as patients die in queues

NHS chief orders trusts to help ‘respond to the impact on demand of further waves of Covid-19’

Shaun Lintern
Health Correspondent
Wednesday 27 October 2021 16:37
<p>Ambulance Services have faced significant pressures throughout the summer</p>

Ambulance Services have faced significant pressures throughout the summer

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Hospitals across England have been told to “immediately stop all delays” for ambulances stacking outside A&E units to handover patients as one ambulance trust today warned the problem had reached “catastrophic” levels.

The message from Mark Cubbon, NHS England’s chief operating officer, was sent to leaders on Tuesday night after it emerged a patient had died while waiting over an hour in the back of an ambulance outside Addenbrooke’s Hospital, in Cambridge.

At a meeting of the board of West Midlands Ambulance Service on Wednesday, nursing director Mark Docherty told bosses patients were dying before paramedics could reach them because of delays at hospitals.

The West Midlands service, like ambulance trusts across the country, has seen record levels of 999 calls while also seeing crews delayed for hours outside NHS trusts. Data seen by The Independent shows there were 5,752 ambulances waiting longer than 60 minutes to handover patients in September across the Midlands.

In July, chief executive Anthony Marsh told staff there was no question patients were coming to harm as a result.

At the board meeting today the ambulance trust raised its risk level to 25 – meaning a ‘catastrophic’ impact from delays.

Nursing director Mark Docherty said: “We know patients are coming to harm” adding some were “dying before we get to them”.

“This is a completely unacceptable situation as far as we’re concerned…We know for a fact we are causing harm to patients and that harm is significant. And the definition of 25 (risk level), is that harm is almost certain - and it’s going to be catastrophic. I think we’re now at that place.”

The board was told the service faced losing almost 15,000 hours of paramedic time because of handover delays beyond 30 minutes in October alone. This is the highest it has ever seen.

Throughout the summer all 10 ambulance service trusts in England have had to declare incidents due to unsustainable pressure. It has led to the government call in the military to help drive ambulances and respond to 999 calls.

Soldiers have also been used in Wales and Scotland.

In his email to bosses on Tuesday night, Mr Cubbon said NHS England would activate daily reporting from NHS trusts to NHS England on the situation they are facing to “provide a clearer picture of capacity and help us respond to the impact on demand of further waves of Covid-19”.

On ambulance delays at A&E units he added: “I recognise there are significant ongoing challenges. We’ve therefore asked trusts and [integrated care systems] to agree rapid plans to take action to immediately stop all delays.”

His email did not spell out in detail how hospitals could achieve this.

Earlier this month health secretary Sajid Javid told a Downing Street press conference that he did not believe the pressure on the NHS was unsustainable.

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