Quarter of ambulances getting stuck in A&E queueson December 16, 2021 at 10:18 am

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Staff warning patients being put at risk because of handover delays at hospital.

Row of ambulances outside the Royal London Hospital, January 2021

Image source, EPA

Nearly a quarter of patients brought to hospital in an ambulance are facing dangerous delays getting into hospital in England, NHS data shows.

Ambulances are meant to hand over patients within 15 minutes of arriving.

But in the past week 23% out of nearly 84,000 patients brought in waited over 30 minutes.

Staff are warning patients are being put at risk by the delays – and they think the situation is only going to get worse as Covid infections rise.

Chart showing ambulance delays

Association of Ambulance Chief Executives managing director Martin Flaherty said the delays were a major concern.

“The extent of potential harm that is being caused to patients when there are lengthy delays remains a significant and growing problem.”

He said work was going on to tackle the issue, but around a quarter of hospitals were really struggling.

The 23% figure, which covers the seven days to Sunday, represents a rise from 11% during the same week last year and 15% in 2019, before then pandemic began.

Dr Ian Higginson, vice president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said it reflected the whole system was under “intolerable pressure”.

“Emergency departments are full and with no beds to move patients into ambulances are being held outside and unsafe handover delays are becoming normalised rather than being seen for the failure that they represent.

“This is a crisis of patient safety. Exceptionally long waits, ambulance handover delays, crowded departments, care in corridors, all put patients and their safety at risk.”

Dr Higginson said hospitals were particularly struggling to discharge patients who were medically fit to leave but needed support in the community because of the lack of social care.

More than one in 10 beds are occupied by patients in this position.

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