Lives are at high risk because patients have to wait for ambulances to arrive to treat them. In another case in the East of England, it took over an hour to reach a call that was considered immediately life-threatening. The victim was found dead. The ambulance service stated that crews were delayed due to the large number of ambulances parked outside local hospitals. Margaret Root, 82, was one of those who waited for an ambulance for a long time. It took six hours for an ambulance, and then she waited outside for three hours before being admitted. Christina White-Smith, her granddaughter, said that her grandmother was “hugely disappointed”. She said that she didn’t blame the staff for being “amazing” when they reached her grandmother but that she was angry at the NHS for not getting the help it needed. “I don’t think people are aware the severity of this situation. “Richard Webber, a College of Paramedics spokesperson and a working paramedic said that the waits patients were facing were “unacceptable”. “We have members who have been in the field for 20-30 years and have never experienced anything like this during this time of year. “Everyday services are receiving hundreds of 999 calls and have no one to dispatch. “The ambulance service is not providing the level of service it should. Patients are waiting too long, and that is putting them at danger. Webber stated that delays in handing over patients to hospital staff were common. It means that on a 12-hour shift, we can only attend two to three incidents, whereas we used to do six, seven, or eight.”
The impact on response time is clear. According to the latest September data, Category 1 cases in England that are immediately life-threatening (e.g. cardiac arrests) took on average nine minutes to reach. Research shows that a delay of just one minute can reduce survival rates by 10% in cardiac arrests. Category two cases include emergency situations such as heart attacks, strokes, and burns. They should have been reached in 18 minutes, but it took 45. In Wales, the Healthcare Inspectorate recently warned delays were presenting a risk to patients. Shortly afterwards the ambulance service there requested help from the military. There appear to be numerous reasons behind the problems. There are also signs that the pandemic and the disruption it has caused to health care and everyday life, has meant the health of frail and vulnerable people has deteriorated, leading to more demand on services. Calls to the ambulance service are up by around a quarter on the numbers seen before the pandemic. Hospitals are also reporting problems trying to discharge patients who are medically fit to leave but cannot because there is no social care available to support them in the community. This is causing significant delays admitting patients onto wards, and in turn is leading to long waits for ambulance crews arriving with patients.
The head of the Scottish Ambulance Service, Pauline Howie, recently made an apology to the public, describing the pressures being faced as “unprecedented”. Chris Hopson, of NHS Providers, which represents both ambulance and hospital bosses in England, said the system was “severely stretched”. What is worrying is that they are all operating at their limits and we’re not yet into winter when these pressures could rise further.