Stroke and heart attack patients wait more than a day for ambulances, new figures reveal

Ambulances response targets for very urgent patients were missed in all but one area, figures reveal

Rebecca Thomas
Health Correspondent
Wednesday 24 April 2024 10:30 BST
Keir Starmer tells Rishi Sunak to stop 'political games' over ambulance waiting times

Patients needing urgent treatment for life-threatening illness such as strokes or heart attacks waited more than 24 hours for an ambulance response, new figures show.

New data shows the crisis facing NHS ambulance services resulted in every region missing vital NHS targets to respond to some of the most critically unwell patients last year.

Despite improvements compared to 2022, figures obtained by the Liberal Democrat party show ambulance services continued to struggle with response times to category two patients, which may include those who have suffered a stroke or heart attack and should receive a response within 18 minutes.

In two cases patients needing this level of response, in Warrington and Staffordshire, waited more than 25 hours for an ambulance.

Sir Julian Hartley, chief executive at NHS Providers, which represents all NHS trusts, called for “urgent” investment and warned that “rising demand, limited resources and vast staff shortages are piling pressure on an already-stretched service, further driving up ambulance waiting times.”

He said NHS hospital and ambulance leaders are working to reduce delays and responses at a time “when demand has never been higher.”

According to the data, obtained under the freedom of information act, Cornwall had the worst average response times last year with Category 2 patients waiting an average of one hour and nine minutes for an ambulance to arrive. This was followed by West Devon, and South Hams with waits of 59 minutes.

Response times to Category 2 calls have deteriorated since 2019, reaching record highs in 2022.

NHS England has since set ambulance services a target this year of having patients seen within 30 minutes rather 18 minutes.

For Category 1 patients, who should received a response within seven minutes, ambulances in 173 out of 194 local authority areas missed the target. In one case a patient waited 11 hours and 44 minutes for a Category 1 response.

Last month The Independent revealed a new private ambulance service has been launched in the East of England charging patients a £99 fee for a response.

The most recent estimates from the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives showed 34,000 people may have been harmed due to ambulances being delayed outside of hospital. These levels reached record highs during winter 2022.

Daisy Cooper MP, health and social care spokesperson for the LibDems said: “Calling an ambulance when you or a loved one is in a serious emergency is one of the most distressing moments of someone’s life. The least people deserve is to know that an ambulance will be able to reach them in time. Sadly, too often that is not happening as these devastating figures show.

“This Conservative government has overseen the complete decimation of local NHS services. Under the Conservative Party the health service has faced unforgivable neglect and it is patients who are bearing the brunt.

“We urgently need investment in our ambulance services. For too long staff have not been given the resources they need and patients have been left to suffer unnecessarily. Conservative MPs should hang their heads in shame.”

A Department of Health and Social Spokesperson said: “This is misleading as it does not account for the major improvements in ambulance response times this year, with average waits for Category 2 ‘emergency’ incidents more than 13 minutes faster in 2023/24 than the previous year.”

“We have committed an extra £200 million last year, alongside new ambulances, to further expand capacity and improve response times, and the Government is providing the NHS with record funding of nearly £165 billion a year by the end of this Parliament, alongside record numbers of doctors and nurses.

This story was updated with a response from the DHSC at 10:30 on 24 April.

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