Ambulance bosses mark concerns over growing hospital handover delays with 'highest risk rating'
Increasing concerns over handover delays for ambulances across the region have seen health bosses again raise their risk rating to the highest possible level.
At an extraordinary meeting of West Midlands Ambulance Service's (WMAS) board of directors, members today decided to raise the rating from 20 to 25.
The move signifies the board's serious concern over the current length of waits for ambulance crews to hand patients over to hospitals – and the potential for harm to patients and staff if the situation persists.
There has been a steady increase in the number of hours crews have waited at hospitals with patients in recent months.
The number of hours lost steadily rose from 10,671 in April to 15,777 in August, before sharply rising to 22,510 in September, and 27,591 for October.
The paper agreed by board members states: "If handover and offload delays at hospital continue then this will lead to a failure to provide safe and effective care."
The issue of handover delays has been a major issue across the region, and specifically in Shropshire, over the past few years with a stark deterioration starting in 2021/22.
Last year saw the worst ever handover delays recorded by the trust, but this year's figures are now tracking on the same trajectory as 2021/22 – which was the worst in the trust's history up until last year.
Professor Ian Cumming said that the board would formally accept the increased risk the situation poses.
He said: "We are going back to risk of 25, recognising the deteriorating position of handover delays and the knock-on effect that is having on patients and our staff."
Last year the issue became so serious that a number of hospitals set up 'ambulance decision areas' in partnership with WMAS, where patients waiting for space at A&E were off-loaded to a new dedicated area of the hospital where they could be looked after while the ambulance crew was able to leave and answer other emergencies.
It emerged in September that the unit set up at Royal Shrewsbury Hospital, which has seen some of the worst handover delays in the region, was no longer going to be staffed by WMAS, and would be run by workers from the hospital itself.
The problem of handover delays has caused major problems for the ambulance service being able to respond to emergencies.
The situation was illustrated at last month's board meeting where members heard that in 2019 during an average 12-hour shift an ambulance would go to between seven and eight jobs.
Now, paramedics are attending an average of four jobs per shift.