he number of patients waiting for more than an hour inside an ambulance to be admitted to a London hospital has risen sharply, according to new figures, as NHS trusts grapple with record lawsuits, strikes and a surge in cases of flu.
The latest figures from NHS England show that more than one in seven patients arriving by ambulance (16.2%) waited more than 60 minutes to be handed over to hospital staff in the week to December 18, an increase of more than 6% in a month.
Nearly a third of ambulances (32.8 percent) waited more than 30 minutes to deliver a patient in the same period, an increase of 3 percent from the previous week.
The goal is for transfers to be completed within 15 minutes. Ambulance chiefs have warned that delivery delays are leading to the deaths of patients.
Hospitals are struggling to discharge patients and free up capacity on A&E as many beds are occupied by patients needing adult social care with nowhere else to go.
Delivery delays in London meant a total of 3,269 ambulance hours were lost in the week to 18 December, contributing to delays in responding to urgent calls.
The London Ambulance Service (LAS) is not currently publishing its response times, as it says the introduction of its computer-aided dispatch system has made its data “unreliable”.
However, figures leaked to the Health Service Journal earlier this month showed Londoners waited an average of just under 2 hours for an ambulance after a Category 2 call, which includes stroke or chest pain. The goal is around 18 minutes.
The data does not reflect the disruption caused by the paramedics strike, as it took place on December 21. Nurses working in emergency care did not take part in the strike that affected four London trusts on December 15.
Delivery delays were particularly severe at Barts Health NHS Trust, the largest in the capital. More than four in 10 ambulances faced a wait of more than 30 minutes on December 14, the figures showed.
At Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust, more than half of ambulances faced a wait of more than 30 minutes (51 per cent) on December 18. A third waited more than an hour.
Last week, Barts urged pregnant women expecting to give birth to make their own way to the hospital before the paramedics strike. It came after the LAS declared a “business continuity” incident and said Londoners without a life-threatening condition were unlikely to get an ambulance during the strike.
Striking paramedics have cited delivery delays, along with payment, as a major reason for organizing a strike, saying it is evidence the system is collapsing under pressure.
Dr John Martin, LAS chief paramedic, said last week that London paramedics were spending full shifts caring for patients waiting to be released from A&E.
“Hospital delivery delays are at the top of the list of issues for our members…they can spend an entire shift outside the hospital waiting to deliver a patient. That has a huge impact on the paramedics, the families and the patients themselves,” he told the Health and Social Care Committee.
“We pride ourselves on having an excellent paramedical education. It’s really frustrating when you can’t use that on patients on your shift.”
The South West Ambulance Service declared a critical incident due to “extreme pressure” on Thursday.
As of 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, 482 patients were waiting for ambulances across the Southwest, with 106 patients awaiting delivery at hospitals in the region.
The incident follows the same statement from the North East Ambulance Service on Tuesday due to “unprecedented” pressure after the holidays.
Critical incident status means that ambulance trusts are unable to provide usual critical services and patients may be harmed.
Saffron Cordery, interim chief executive of NHS Providers, urged the government to speak to the unions as soon as possible to prevent further strikes that increase pressure on the NHS.
She said: “With ambulance delivery delays increasing by a third in the past week, trusted leaders are extremely concerned as the strike threatens to exacerbate an already deeply challenging situation.”
More than 30,000 people were waiting longer than 52 weeks for treatment, the figures showed, while 2,025 were waiting longer than 78 weeks. However, the figures showed improvement in some areas with nearly two-thirds of patients (64.6 percent) seen within 18 weeks, an increase of 0.8 percent on the previous month.
A spokesman for the NHS in London said: “The NHS in London is experiencing record demand for urgent and emergency care, including a rise in hospitalizations for flu and covid, as is the case across the country.
“However, we have prepared for winter like never before with more beds, additional 111 call handlers, expanding the use of 24/7 control centers throughout the capital for urgent and emergency care and additional respiratory centers, but with flu hospitalizations and Covid cases in The best thing you can do to protect yourself and others is to get vaccinated if you are eligible.”