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East Midlands Ambulance Service says hospital handover delays were up 20% in September

Ambulance chiefs say they have hired ‘hundreds’ of extra staff – and introduced a new system – as they try to cope with levels of demand that can leave our patients waiting hours for help.

Bosses at the East Midlands Ambulance Service (EMAS) have spoken about what they are doing to cater for patients needs as we head into the winter season – and spelled out the challenge that is already evident before that even begins.

This paper is aware of a recent case in which a frail patient was told they would have to wait 11 hours before an ambulance could come to assist them.

East Midlands Ambulance Service (EMAS) is introducing NHS Pathways in November
East Midlands Ambulance Service (EMAS) is introducing NHS Pathways in November

Figures shared with us show that between September 1 and 11am on September 28, EMAS lost 9,111 resource hours due to its crews waiting to hand patients over to a hospital. That’s the equivalent of 29 12-hour shifts a day lost to such delays.

September’s (incomplete) figure was 20% up on August – showing that the pressure is ramping up even before winter bites.

Handover delays are seen as a symptom of wider pressures across the NHS and social care systems – which have a knock-on effect on the ambulance service and A&E when it picks up the pieces.

EMAS said it has spent this year hiring staff across its 999 control rooms, front line ambulance crews, specialist practitioners, and Non-Emergency Patient Transport Services.

By next month, all of its 999 call handlers will be trained in ‘NHS Pathways’ – a clinical assessment tool used elsewhere in the UK.

Bosses say this ‘will enhance our clinical capability and contribute to our broader approach to better manage demand’ – and it is the way it hopes to direct patients to the right services and to bring together the different arms of the NHS to work together better.

West Midlands Ambulance Service (WMAS) is one of eight UK ambulance services using NHS Pathways and it has been helping to introduce the new system by handling 999 calls in our area.

Data from these calls will also be used to demonstrate what NHS Pathways will mean for all concerned when it is rolled out in November.

Sue Cousland, Divisional Director for Lincolnshire at EMAS explained the role the public can play in helping to cope with high demand. She said: “Every 999 call is assessed based on the information provided by the caller and people experiencing a life-threatening emergency such as cardiac arrest, where a patient isn’t conscious or breathing are given immediate priority.

“Calling 999 for medical help should only be used in an emergency, where self-care or help from friends or family, your local pharmacy, your GP, NHS111 Online and your local Urgent Treatment Centre are not appropriate.

“If you have called 111 or 999 and have been advised that you will get a call back, this means the patient’s condition isn’t immediately life threatening or serious.

“Patients presenting with less serious illnesses or injuries may experience an extended wait for an ambulance, so if you are asked by our control room if you can make your own way to hospital, please do so – either via taxi or asking a friend or family member to drive you.

“This allows us to continue to respond to patients who need our ambulances with highly-skilled clinicians and life-saving equipment on board to provide ongoing treatment on the way to hospital.”

An East Midlands Ambulance Service ambulance
An East Midlands Ambulance Service ambulance

At the height of the problems last year, paramedics spent more than 27,500 hours waiting outside hospitals to hand over patients in December – something that led the service to be deemed as ‘not delivering consistently safe services'.

We also reported how one patient in South Holland had to wait more than 23 hours for an ambulance last November.

EMAS bosses did note that they service is one of the best performing trusts in the country for call pick up times – and has helped other services with this during periods of intense pressure.

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