Shropshire Star

Inspection finds 'compassionate and kind' ambulance staff but long delays still put patients at risk

Staff at West Midlands Ambulance Service continue to work hard "under sustained pressure" but lengthy ambulance handover delays are still increasing the risk to patients, an inspection has found.

A report has outlined the challenges facing the West Midlands Ambulance Service

Officials from the Care Quality Commission (CQC) carried out a focused inspection looking at emergency and urgent care at the organisation in November last year.

Inspectors found staff treated people with "compassion and kindness" and respected their privacy and dignity, especially when moving them from an ambulance to A&E.

They found infection prevention was good and workers were ensuring equipment and personal hygiene were of a high standard, whilst communication was good as well.

But the inspection raised concerns over ambulance handover delays – a national issue – although it stated ambulance staff were working hard to meet the targets set for them.

Sonia Brooks, CQC deputy director of operations in the Midlands, said: "When we visited West Midlands Ambulance Service University NHS Foundation Trust, we found staff working hard under sustained pressure and leaders trying to manage priorities and issues to keep people safe.

“However, inspectors found response times and handover targets weren't being met. The delays in handing people over at hospitals meant that ambulances and crews couldn’t be made available to attend other calls. These lengthy delays at hospitals increased risk to people, particularly those that had been lying on trolleys or stretchers in ambulances for long periods of time.

"Although ambulance staff were working hard to meet national targets, these handover delays were a reflection of what’s happening across the healthcare system nationally during these times of sustained pressure.

"However, people praised ambulance crews for their care and compassion, particularly during the lengthy waits at hospital. We will continue to monitor the trust closely, through future inspections, to ensure leaders are mitigating the risks of these issues and that people are receiving high quality care."

The CQC did not re-rate the service during its focused inspection on November 21, 22 and 23, and therefore it remains Outstanding overall.

A spokesman for West Midlands Ambulance Service said: “We are pleased that the CQC inspectors recognised the enormous lengths that our staff have gone to, to look after patients while they deal with excessive hospital handover delays.

"As a trust, we absolutely recognise the impact these delays have on the health and wellbeing of our staff as they do all they can to cope with these very difficult conditions. Sadly, as the report points out, we have seen some patients wait a very long time for ambulances to arrive as a result of the hospital delays with the resultant increased risk to patients both waiting for an ambulance and those left on ambulance stretchers for very long periods.

"The trust has invested heavily in ensuring there is 24-hour support for staff on all of our hubs as well as improvements in the wellbeing support available such employing three mental wellbeing practitioners, dedicated peer-to-peer and online support.

"There has been a significant improvement since the turn of the year with delays reduced at hospitals across the region, which has allowed ambulances to get to patients more quickly than we have seen for many months. We will continue to work with the hospitals to find new ways of reducing the time that patients are left on ambulances so that our crews can respond more quickly to patients in the community and save more lives."