Ambulance service avoids collapse but patients still face long handover waits

More than 50 patients waited over an hour in ambulances outside county hospitals on one day this week – one for more than 20 hours.

The longest handover wait of more than 20 hours came at Princess Royal Hospital in Telford
The longest handover wait of more than 20 hours came at Princess Royal Hospital in Telford

The waits came on Wednesday, the day singled out by West Midlands Ambulance Service's director of nursing, March Docherty, as the date when the service would "collapse".

While the service avoided the catastrophe predicted by Mr Docherty, the length of waiting times across Shropshire and the West Midlands show huge difficulties in getting patients into hospitals.

It comes as Ludlow town councillor and ambulance campaigner Darren Childs has challenged the county's MPs to spend a day inside A&E to witness the problems facing the health service.

In total there were 57 patients who waited with ambulance staff outside Shropshire hospitals for more than an hour on Wednesday – 33 at Princess Royal Hospital (PRH) in Telford, and 24 at Royal Shrewsbury Hospital (RSH).

The longest waits were 20 hours and 29 minutes at PRH and 14 hours 48 minutes at RSH.

Patients are supposed to be handed over within 15 minutes.

Across the West Midlands there were 353 patients who waited more than an hour to be handed over, with ambulance crews losing around 1,850 hours outside hospitals.

The situation comes as a 'critical incident' remains in place for the county's entire health system – leading to the cancellation of routine appointments to make way for emergency care.

Mr Docherty's comments around the system failing had been based on estimates that August 17 would be the point by which a third of the trust's ambulance response would no longer be available because of delays – leaving it unable to respond to incidents.

While the situation did not materialise, the service continues to face significant problems in responding to patients quickly enough.

A spokesman for the ambulance trust said: "Whilst the service is under very considerable pressure the staff in our control rooms and our operational ambulances are working flat out to reach patients as quickly as possible.

“The service will continue despite these challenges.”

Simon Whitehouse, Chief Executive Officer for NHS Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin Integrated Care System, said: “In Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin we are working hard as a health and care system to manage the continued and unprecedented pressure that is being experienced on services across all our settings.

“Recently we declared a system critical incident because it allows us to take additional steps to maintain safe services for the people that need them. Our A&E’s are busy and there are very few available beds to move patients into. This results in patients being held outside. We are only able to treat people with life threatening conditions and injuries, so anyone who arrives at A&E without a life-threatening condition or injury will be redirected to alternative services that can help. We apologise to local people that they are, at times, having to wait longer for services and for an ambulance response than we would normally expect.

“Our immediate priority is to ensure that we can care for the most seriously ill patients, and we are focusing on safely discharging as many patients as possible. It is helpful if families and loved ones are able to support us, by collecting patients as soon as they are ready to be discharged where this is possible.

“The public can also help by ensuring they seek help from the most appropriate health services, and only calling 999 or attending A&E for serious accidents and genuine emergencies. If you are unwell, visit NHS 111 online for 24/7 advice about the most appropriate care for your needs. All of our services remain open though.

“Work to tackle these issues is ongoing, complex and requires the support of our staff, partners and the public. We are grateful to everyone who is taking steps to help us and continue to praise our dedicated and determined teams who continue to work hard to provide the best care possible for our communities.”

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