ONE in ten patients who arrived at hospitals by ambulance in the last week of December waited more than three hours to be unloaded in the A&E departments, reveal new figures.
The latest deterioration in performance comes as the Herald also understands that investigations were launched last week into cases in which patients died in the back of ambulances while awaiting treatment in packed emergency departments.
The Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) said it was unable to comment, but sources told the Herald that several serious adverse event reviews have been launched since late December in incidents where delays in delivery had resulted in patients deteriorating to the point where they suffered extensive damage and, in some cases, died.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon chaired a meeting of the Scottish government’s resilience committee yesterday to discuss the “ongoing winter pressures” on health and social care.
A spokeswoman said the government is monitoring the situation “extremely closely.”
SAS statistics for the week beginning December 26 show that 90% of patients taken to hospital by ambulance were delivered within three hours and eight minutes, meaning one in 10 spent even longer in the rear of the vehicles.
Some areas fared worse. In Grampian, 10% of patients were in ambulances outside of A&E for more than five hours and 20 minutes.
In Ayrshire the figure was four hours and 43 minutes; in Fife, four hours; and in Lanarkshire, 10% of patients waited more than three hours and 22 minutes.
Sandra Macleod, medicine and unscheduled care leader at NHS Grampian, said she was facing an “extreme level of pressure” due to the number of acutely ill patients arriving at her hospitals and the difficulties in discharging patients to release Beds.
It added: “At all times, cases are evaluated, and those facing life-threatening situations are promptly attended to for life-saving treatment, as a top priority.”
Joanne Edwards, acute director for NHS Ayrshire and Arran, said she was “working closely” with SAS to reduce all avoidable waits, adding: “Although our staff work hard to assess and treat patients as quickly as possible, some patients have had a longer wait. time than we would like, and we apologize unreservedly for that.”
It comes after figures earlier this week showed a record 1,925 people spent more than 12 hours in Scotland’s emergency departments in the run-up to Christmas, with the A&E gridlock leaving ambulances stranded at the door. principal.
GMB coordinator Robert Pollock, a clinical adviser and paramedic based at Cardonald’s ambulance control room, said the situation was “horrible” for patients and staff.
He said: “Many of these patients have dementia in addition to their health conditions, and you are trying to sit in the back of an ambulance with them for six and seven hours when there are no facilities for them, no toilets, it is undignified.
“They are people, and you can’t treat them like people, that’s the worst.
“Nobody wants to sit there for hours with a very sick patient when they’ve done everything they can for a patient. It’s horrible. The system is collapsing.”
Pollock said paramedics were “lucky” to respond to two or three calls now in an 11-hour shift where previously they might have handled eight, due to ambulances being backlogged or covering a larger geographic area.
He added that even patients he prioritizes as urgent can face long delays.
“People who are very sick with ongoing heart attacks can now wait an hour or more depending on where they are in the country because ambulances are stuck outside A&E. I can’t give you what we don’t have, all I can do is highlight it. and climb up and hope someone gets there before it’s too late.
“We have hundreds of jobs on the screen almost every minute of every day.”
Median response times for 999 calls show that, on average, ambulances were arriving at ‘purple’ emergencies (cardiac arrests and severe breathing difficulties) within the eight-minute target at the end of December, although one in 10 cases took more than 20 minutes.
One in 10 amber calls, which include severe chest pain and stroke and have a target time of 19 minutes, took more than an hour and 17 minutes to reach crews, and 10% of ‘yellow’ calls took nearly seven hours.
Jamie MacNamee, a paramedic in Glasgow and Unite Convener for the Scottish Ambulance Service, said: “Amber calls are considered to be immediately life-threatening, and make no mistake: there are also some seriously ill people in the yellow category.”
“Without more capacity in the hospitals, this will go on and on, but the hospitals just come back to us and say they don’t have the equity to create the additional capacity and even if they did, they don’t have the staff to service it.
“We’re really in a quagmire here.”
A Scottish government spokeswoman said: “The boards of health are seeing that delayed discharges continue to increase A&E waits, which is why we are working with them to ensure that people who do not need to be in hospital leave without delay. freeing up vital beds for those who need them most.
“We are clear that there should be no unnecessary delays for ambulance crews delivering patients to hospitals. NHS staff are working hard to ensure a quick and safe delivery of patients, freeing ambulance teams back into the community.”