Almost 800 patients left waiting in ambulances
Almost 800 people had to wait up to an hour to be admitted into A&E from ambulances across the region from January to March this year, according to new figures.
Figures from West Midlands Ambulance Trust reveal 795 patients waited between 45 minutes to an hour from January to March 2017 for handover to Birmingham City Hospital, County Hospital Stafford, New Cross Hospital, Dudley’s Russells Hall, Sandwell Hospital and Walsall Manor.
Handover time is defined by the ambulance service as the ‘duration from the time the vehicle arrived at hospital to the time in which the patient was handed over to hospital staff.’ National guidelines say patients should be handed over in under 15 minutes.
Figures obtained through a Freedom of Information request show in January, Russells Hall topped the table for the number of patients waiting between 45 minutes and an hour, with 135 patients waiting.
New Cross had 125 patients waiting up to an hour while Walsall Manor had 101. Sandwell Hospital had 26 people waiting that long, Birmingham City had 20 while Stafford’s County Hospital had just two.
February saw New Cross have 76 patients waiting between 45 minutes and an hour while Russells Hall had 62. Walsall Manor had 57 patients waiting up to an hour while Birmingham City had 14, Sandwell eight and County Hospital had three.
In March 51 patients waited up to an hour at New Cross, in comparison to Russells Hall had 42 and Walsall Manor 40. Birmingham City Hospital had 27 patients waiting and Sandwell had nine. County Hospital had no recorded patients waiting between 45 minutes to an hour for this month.
Ambulance Service spokesman Claire Brown said: “There is no doubt handover delays and diverts place a considerable strain on the ambulance service.
“We continue to work closely with all hospitals in the region to tackle such issues and operate a number of measures to help ensures ambulances are able to offload patients as quickly as possible.”
Dr John Oxtoby, medical director of University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS Trust which runs County Hospital , said: “UHNM enjoys a close and successful relationship with West Midlands Ambulance Service and works with them to ensure patients receive the most appropriate care as quickly as possible.
“Despite being very busy, patients are transferred from ambulances into the department promptly to allow ambulance staff to get back on the road quickly and attend 999 emergencies. We are very proud of our ambulance turnaround times.”
In January 2017, Russells Hall had 103 people wait more than an hour and five wait more than two hours. Walsall Manor had 88 people wait more than an hour in January, with three patients waiting more than two hours.
New Cross had 61 people wait more than one hour, though no one was recorded as waiting more than two hours, with the longest wait time in January recorded as one hour and 57 minutes.
In February, New Cross topped the table for people waiting more than an hour, with 47. Russells Hall had 41 and Walsall Manor had 39. The longest recorded wait time for the month was at Walsall Manor.
A Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust spokesman said: “These are unprecedented times for the NHS and the challenges facing our staff increase on a daily basis. We are seeing record numbers in terms of ambulances arriving.
"We always strive to provide the best, high quality, safe care we can for every one of our patients and we have a good working relationship with WMAS which helps us provide the care our patients deserve when they arrive here.
“Our fines are reducing and as in previous years we will apply to the CCG to recover the monies and ensure the money supports our front-line services.”
March saw Walsall Manor have the highest recorded wait time again, this time of two hours and 25 minutes, with 21 patients waiting over an hour in comparison to Russells Hall 14 and New Cross 12.
Diane Wake, chief executive of the Dudley Group NHS Trust, said: “We work closely with our colleagues at WMAS to make sure that patients who arrive by ambulance at A&E are assessed, treated and handed over as quickly and efficiently as possible.
“When patients arrive, they are immediately brought into our dedicated ambulance triage area by a member of WMAS staff. Here they are assessed by one of the Trust’s triage nurses and receive initial treatment, if required.
"Patients do not wait outside in ambulances during the handover period but are accompanied by a member of WMAS staff until their care is officially ‘handed over’ to our A&E team. Our staff work with WMAS during this time to maintain patient safety.
"During January 2017, the volume of ambulances and the pattern of their arrival was at times very challenging. During these times of peak demand, ambulance crews did sometimes wait longer than we would expect.
“However, we always prioritise all patients who need urgent medical attention according to their clinical need.”
“We closely oversee ambulance turnaround times throughout the day at our operational meetings involving key people such as clinical site co-ordinators, matrons, senior managers and the Hospital Ambulance Liaison Officer (HALO).”
Rachel Barlow, Chief Operating Officer at Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “As one of the busiest A&E departments in the Midlands, we have been working with WMAS to improve ambulance turnaround times.
"We use a dedicated team whose role is to take clinical handover of patients from the ambulance crews so that we can start treatment quickly and ensure patients are directed to the care of the right team.
“We also work closely with the HALO from West Midlands Ambulance Service to assist us managing the turnaround times so that together we can release the crew back onto the road for their next call.”