Safety being jeopardised as hospital ambulance hold-ups increase dramatically
Ambulance crews had to wait more than an hour to hand over patients to A&E at one hospital on more than 450 occasions in a month.
The situation at Russells Hall Hospital in December has dramatically worsened year-on-year.
In December last year, there were 458 instances when it took more than an hour for paramedics to drop off patients at the hospital.
This compares with 151 in December 2016, and just three in December 2015.
The process of handing over a patient should take 15 minutes, according to the Government.
West Midlands Ambulance Service chief executive Anthony Marsh said the delays were putting the safe running of his organisation at risk.
It means paramedics can be stuck at a hospital while an emergency incident requiring them takes place.
Russells Hall was not the only hospital in the Black Country and Staffordshire where the handover of patients was badly delayed.
At Walsall Manor Hospital there were 110 incidents of handovers taking more than an hour in December, but this was down from 160 the year before.
There were 86 instances at New Cross Hospital in Wolverhampton and 14 at Sandwell General Hospital.
At Royal Stoke Hospital there were 131 incidents, and at County Hospital in Stafford there were 12.
In a report to the ambulance service board, Mr Marsh said: “Patient handover delays at hospital is the single biggest factor that jeopardises the delivery of a safe ambulance service for people in the West Midlands.
“In total, the ambulance service lost 6,800 hours of ambulance resource due to handover delays that exceeded 30 minutes; this is the equivalent of 566 ambulance shifts or taking 18 ambulances each day off the road.
"The concern with patient handover delays is the extent to which this is getting worse every year, despite our best efforts to reduce these delays with the acutes, clinical commissioning groups, NHS England and NHS Improvement.”
Karen Kelly, chief operating officer at the Dudley Group NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Russells Hall Hospital, said: “We work closely with our colleagues at West Midlands Ambulance Service to make sure that patients who arrive by ambulance at A&E are assessed, treated and handed over as quickly and efficiently as possible.
“Those requiring urgent clinical attention are always given priority to ensure they receive the care and treatment they need as soon as possible.
“The pressure on our emergency services has been consistent throughout the last 12 months.
Ms Kelly continued: "During December 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. As always, our extremely hard working staff continue to go above and beyond to ensure that patients are safe and cared for appropriately.
“Our turnaround times have improved greatly since December.
“We continue to work across the health economy which includes representation from WMAS on how best to ensure our patients receive the appropriate care needed.
“Once it is opened, the brand new emergency treatment centre will help reduce ambulance handover times as we are increasing our ambulance triage bays from four to 12.”