What do our parliamentary candidates say about increased ambulance waiting times?
PUBLISHED: 07:02 11 December 2019
A Freedom of Information request has revealed an increase in the number of patients waiting outside A&E departments in ambulances for up to an hour in the East of England.
Statistics show that the East of England Ambulance service - which serves patients going to Lister Hospital in Stevenage, Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge and St Albans City and Watford General Hospital - has seen an increase in waiting times for patients unable to progress into A&E after arriving at the hospital.
According to the information provided in the FOI - which was submitted by the Labour Party - 65,034 patients had to wait half an hour in the back of an ambulance last year, and 14,793 waited for an hour or more in 2018/19.
In 2017/18, 41,579 patients waited for half an hour while 11,939 waited for up to 60 minutes.
The national guidance states that patients arriving at an emergency department by ambulance must be handed over to the care of A&E staff within 15 minutes.
North East Herts' Labour candidate Kelley Green said: "This is totally disgraceful. This is very bad for the patients who need to be treated fast, but it also means that the ambulance crews are tied up and not available to go to other emergency calls.
"It adds to expense as well - English ambulance trusts spent £68 million on private ambulances last year and nearly £20 million on taxis.
"Labour will set about dealing with these problems as soon as we are elected, with our £40 billion rescue plan."
The Conservative candidate Sir Oliver Heald said: "The East of England Ambulance Trust has been working hard with our hospitals to improve these times and I have been regularly briefed on this by the Lister Hospital and the ambulance authority. "It is about effective coordination and Lister is one of the best in the region with low waits."
Amy Finch for the Liberal Democrats said: "Waiting times for ambulances and A&E treatment have been at a dangerous level for some time now, and it is shameful that patients are having to wait so long to access urgent care.
"Staff shortages and persistent cuts have left our health service on its knees, a problem exacerbated by Brexit. Over 11,600 NHS staff from the EU have left the health service in the three years since the Brexit vote.
"This week has seen industry thinktank, Nuffield Trust, warning the two main parties against any radical changes to immigration policy that would deter healthcare professionals from moving to Britain.
"Their report finds that 'reliance on migration is greatest in hospitals' and fears that attempts to address staff shortages will be negatively affected by the end of free movement post Brexit.
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"Any form of Brexit, and restriction on free movement, will simply cripple our health and social care system further. Only the Liberal Democrats will stop Brexit to protect freedom of movement and our NHS."
Green candidate Tim Lee added: "The ambulance services across the UK do an incredible job, especially considering how much the funding has been cut by the Conservative government. The Green party will seek to improve NHS services with £6 billion extra per year. "We will extend local services enabling people to obtain the help they need locally without having to resort to calling for an ambulance so often.
"The Green party will also improve public transport and reduce the number of cars on the road, enabling emergency vehicles to serve the public better."
In response to the figures, a spokesman for Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said: "Figures show that in October just under 60 per cent of the 2,951 ambulances arriving to Addenbrooke's Emergency Department were handed over in 15 minutes.
"That was second in the region out of about 18 hospitals. We had 211 that waited over 30 minutes and 35 that waited over an hour, which is about third or fourth in the region.
"We have really tight escalation around our ambulance waits, we are not perfect but this is an area that we put lots of focus on to making it work."
A board meeting report into ambulance waiting times of the East and North Herts NHS trust - which includes Lister Hospital - states: "To continue to demonstrate our commitment to improving ambulance arrival to handover times the trust has agreed to a more aggressive improvement trajectory commencing November 2019.
"This includes a zero tolerance for delays of over 60 minutes. One of the key elements will include direct referral to frailty from ambulance trolley."
Across England, over half a million patients waited for half an hour and almost 80,000 for an hour, due to A&E departments being overstretched.
An East of England Ambulance Service spokeswoman said: "Patient experience and safety is our top priority when our clinicians are waiting to handover to hospital staff.
"We are working with our NHS partners to achieve the best outcome for all out patients - both in the community and those already at or in hospital - as we manage these waits.
"As part of our collaborative working across the region, hospital ambulance liaison officers (HALOs) work in A&E departments to help manage the flow of ambulance patients arriving.
"Our HALOs assist A&E teams and our ambulance crews to handover the sickest patients as a priority.
"We are urging the public to choose wisely and if its not a life-threatening emergency, use NHS Choices, call 111, visit a pharmacist or see your GP."