Health chiefs jittery as 999 crews miss targets

9:40am Thursday 12th December 2013

By Tarik Al Rasheed

AMBULANCE crews are facing long delays dropping patients at Worcestershire Royal Hospital – with “nervous” ambulance chiefs admitting that they are concerned it could affect their ability to respond to critical emergency calls.

West Midlands Ambulance Service delivered more than 2,200 patients to the hospital during November and has revealed crews failed to hit their target turnaround time – of being back on the road within 30 minutes – 45 per cent of the time.

And communications director Murray MacGregor warned that the ability to respond to life-threatening calls will be compromised if too many ambulances are left stranded outside hospitals. Even with hospitals coming under winter pressure, the overall figure for turnarounds exceeding 30 minutes across the West Midlands in November was just 31.6 per cent, with Worcester the third-worst performer out of 21 in the West Midlands.

Mr MacGregor said all hospitals are coming under additional pressure now winter has arrived, and that problems getting bed blockers out of wards to create room for new arrivals are often beyond individual hospitals’ control. But he warned: “The difficulty for us and what makes us nervous is not the patients queuing on the trolleys outside A&E, it is the patients we have not got to yet. “If we have too many ambulances queued up outside hospitals then it can have life-threatening consequences. I don’t want to be overly dramatic and the situation this year is much better than last. Back in February and March things got really difficult. They got a lot better but it has started to creep back up over the last month.

“It is the combination of additional demand and extra pressure on hospitals and it is starting to cause us problems.” University Hospitals North Staffordshire was the region’s busiest hospital during November, with 4,500 patients arriving by ambulance.

But turnarounds only took longer than 30 minutes 18 per cent of the time. At Walsall, West Midlands, which with about 2,500 patients arriving saw similar levels of demand to Worcester, the rate was just 30 per cent. “Clearly hospitals of different sizes have ways of dealing with it,” said Mr MacGregor. “Any hospital can have a bad day and there is sometimes no rhyme or reason to levels of demand. But over the period of a month a picture starts to build up.”

He added: “We have encouraged hospitals to go and speak to each other because there are some really good pockets of working. “We do have sympathy with hospitals because often the difficulty is getting patients out of the back door and that is clearly a wider issue.” No one from Worcestershire Acute Trust was available to comment as your Worcester News went to press.

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