Patient harm ‘almost certain’ due to ambulance handover delays
Patients are being put at “catastrophic risk” of harm due to ambulance handover delays, health bosses say.
West Midlands Ambulance Service (WMAS) has raised its risk rating for such delays to its highest level for the first time in its history.
The risk rating shows the trust believes patient harm is “almost certain” due to the handover hold-ups.
Mark Docherty, director of nursing and clinical commissioning, said it was a “completely unacceptable situation”.
It comes as a patient died after waiting more than five hours in the back of an ambulance in Worcestershire.
At a meeting on Wednesday, the ambulance service’s board of directors heard the amount of time being lost to delays had reached previously unseen levels, the Local Democracy Reporting Service said.
And Mr Docherty warned the situation was set to get worse over the coming months as a result of winter pressures.
“If we follow the trajectory that winter normally follows it’s only going to get worse, and we will lose so many hours in December, January and February that it’s difficult to see how we will be able to respond to some patients in a time frame that’s acceptable.”
‘Only going to get worse’
“Despite everything we are doing by way of mitigation, we know that patients are coming to harm as a result of delays,” he said.
“We know that there are patients that are having significant harm and indeed, through our review of learning from deaths, we know that sadly some patients are dying before we get to them.”
Mr Docherty said additional front-line resources had been deployed in an effort to get to more patients.
But he added: “If we follow the trajectory that winter normally follows it’s only going to get worse, and we will lose so many hours in December, January and February that it’s difficult to see how we will be able to respond to some patients in a time frame that’s acceptable”.
The meeting heard that in September 1,375 hours were lost by crews stuck outside the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital, while at the Princess Royal the number of lost hours was 768. They contributed to a total of more than 16,000 lost hours across the West Midlands that month.
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WMAS deputy chair Wendy Farrington-Chadd said it was “disappointing” adding the trust should be “pushing more for solutions”.
Meanwhile, hospitals in England have been ordered to “eliminate” ambulance queues outside hospitals following the death at Worcestershire Royal Hospital and another death of a patient in an ambulance outside Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridgeshire.
A letter from NHS England to all acute hospitals stated handover delays represent “unacceptable clinical risk” for both for patients waiting in ambulance queues and those in the community whose emergency care is delayed.
Martin Flaherty, managing director of the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives, said the ambulance sector is experiencing “some of the highest levels of emergency activity in its history” and the association “remains extremely concerned about the unprecedented levels of hospital handover delays which are occurring across the UK”.
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