“Too Full” A&Es forcing patients to wait in ambulances outside for hours

11 August 2014

“Too Full” A&Es forcing patients to wait in ambulances outside for hours

Research by the Labour Party has revealed that hundreds of thousands of patients are forced to wait outside NHS England hospitals in queues of ambulances due to the fact that A&Es are too full.

Labour has said, in figures obtained by the party through freedom of information requests, that 300,000 patients in England could not access A&E promptly as they were caught in ambulance queues outside emergency departments with times waiting in ambulance traffic ranging from over 30 minutes to even longer than an hour.

The figures, which reflect the waiting times in 2013/14, showed that over 279,200 ambulances were delayed for over a half hour with a further 30,600 patients waiting for longer than one hour, Labour said.

Labour sent freedom of information requests to 10 ambulance trusts with some individual cases indicating waiting times which went far beyond just one hour. One patient in the West Midlands was forced to wait for eight hours and 11 minutes, the party found, for instance.

"Long handovers are completely unacceptable"

The patient waiting times arose due to “handover delays” as ambulance crews are waiting outside A&E but cannot transfer patients as the A&E department does not have enough staff or beds to cater for the patients.

Prompt diagnosis and treatment is often extremely important when a patient comes to A&E and waiting times can sometimes worsen an existing condition and in cases where time is particularly of the essence can even result in more complicated medical outcomes because of the delay. Mistreatment.com often speaks with members of the public who have experienced A&E delays such as those found through the Labour Party research and whose medical treatment has sometimes been compromised as a result of excessive delay.

"People rely on ambulances coming quickly in life and death situations"

Labour's shadow health minister Jamie Reed said: "Under David Cameron, hospitals are full to bursting and he's forcing ambulances to queue at the doors for hours on end.

"Thousands of vulnerable people, many of them elderly and frightened, are being wrongly held in the backs of ambulances because hospitals don't have the space. And yet ministers deny that A&E is in crisis.

"People know from their own experience that the NHS is heading downhill on David Cameron's watch. It is clear the Tories can't be trusted with it."

A Department of Health spokesman said: "People rely on ambulances coming quickly in life and death situations and long handovers are completely unacceptable.

"We're already making good progress in reducing the number of patients waiting for 30 minutes or longer – down by almost a third last winter – though there's always more the NHS can do.

"We are providing extra support, including £28 million for ambulances from funds already given to the NHS this year, to keep services sustainable year-round. In the long-term, we want to reduce demand by looking after people better in the community."

Is medical treatment being compromised?

An NHS England spokeswoman said: "The figures published for the winter of 2013/14 show the number of ambulance handover delays were actually down on the previous year by 30%.

"However in some cases it may be the right thing to do for a patient to be cared for in the ambulance before transfer to stabilise their condition.

"One of the aims of our Urgent and Emergency Care Review is to capitalise on the skills and abilities of paramedics and the wider workforce so that ambulances can become more of a mobile treatment service, rather than just a transport service."

Have you or a loved one experienced significant A&E delays through ambulance transfers? If so what was the eventual result of the outcome for the treatment concerned? To raise an official complaint or to enquire about a potential medical negligence claim, you can speak to the specialist teams at Mistreatment.com for free to understand what your patient rights and options are.