A quarter of ambulance patients wait over an hour for A&E transfer

One in four ambulance patients in England waited over an hour to be handed over to hospital A&E teams last week as a combination of bed shortages and increased demand helped push delays to a new high .

About four in 10 patients had to wait at least 30 minutes to be transferred to the emergency room.

Nursing leaders warned the NHS was ‘dangerously close to complete overheating’ and said the figures suggested there was ‘absolutely no slack in the system’.

A total of 16,379 transfer delays of over an hour were recorded at hospital trusts last week, according to data from NHS England.

(PA graphics)

This accounted for 24% of all ambulance arrivals, down from 17% the previous week.

The figure was 7% in the equivalent week in December 2021 and only 5% in December 2020.

Delays ran high throughout the week, with no clear evidence that the industrial action taken by nurses on Wednesday December 15 had any specific impact.

NHS trusts in England aim for 95% of all ambulance transfers to be completed within 30 minutes, and 100% within 60 minutes.

A total of 28,105 patients, or 41% of the total, had to wait at least 30 minutes last week to be transferred.

This is up from 34% the previous week, and compares to 20% at this point in 2021 and 15% in 2020.

A transfer delay does not always mean that a patient waited in the ambulance.


(PA graphics)

They may have been transferred to an A&E unit until staff are available to complete the transfer.

But the level of delays reflects the continued struggle hospitals face to find space for new arrivals.

An average of 22,771 people a day across England were ready to be discharged from hospital last week, of whom only 40% were discharged, down from 41% the previous week.

The average number of hospital beds occupied by people fit to leave stood at 13,697, up week-on-week from 13,245, and more than a quarter more than the equivalent week in December 2021.

Patricia Marquis, director of the Royal College of Nursing for England, said: “Health and care are under severe strain as Christmas approaches. These numbers suggest that there is absolutely no slack in the system, which is dangerously close to complete overheating.

“A key part of the problem is that the vast majority of hospital beds are full – around 95% – including with thousands of discharged patients. The lack of community and social care means they will spend this Christmas in hospital.

“The real cause of this is the record number of nursing vacancies in the NHS and tens of thousands more in healthcare and social care. Ministers can only begin to address this problem by tackling the record number of nursing vacancies and properly valuing the profession by paying nurses fairly to retain and recruit the staff patients need.


(PA graphics)

Analysis of the latest data by the PA news agency shows that, among trusts reporting at least 500 ambulance arrivals last week, the highest proportion of patients waiting over an hour to be handed over was 58 per cent at the two University Hospitals Bristol & Weston (381 out of 655 patients) and Gloucestershire Hospitals (345 out of 595).

Next come Northern Lincolnshire & Goole at 53% (311 out of 590 patients), University Hospitals of Leicester at 52% (446 out of 865), University Hospitals of North Midlands at 51% (333 out of 651), Shrewsbury & Telford Hospital at 50% (271 out of 540) and University Hospitals Dorset also at 50% (409 out of 817).

The Royal Cornish Hospitals recorded 470 arrivals last week, of which 337 – 72% – waited over an hour to be handed over to A&E teams.

The NHS faces a ‘wide-ranging set of pressures’ ahead of Christmas, health chiefs have said, with rising flu cases and staff illnesses adding to the fight to clear ambulance transfers and delayed holidays.

On average, 1,939 people with flu were hospitalized in England each day last week, up 67% from 1,162 the previous week.

There has been an increase in the number of flu patients in intensive care beds, with the daily average standing at 149 last week, up 72% from 87.

Staff sickness is running at an average of 60,583 absences a day, up nearly a fifth from last month, while the number of staff on sick leave due to Covid-19 has risen by a third since mid-November, to reach 7,218 a day.

Some hospitals manage to discharge less than 10% of medically fit patients.

Last week levels fell to 5% at Stockport Foundation Trust and 7% at Liverpool University Hospitals, Warrington & Halton University Hospitals and Northern Care Alliance in Greater Manchester, according to analysis by the agency. PA press.

Other trusts with very low discharge rates of fit patients include Ashford & St Peter’s Hospitals in Surrey, Southport & Ormskirk Hospital and Worcestershire Acute Hospitals (all 10%), as well as Doncaster University Hospitals & Bassetlaw (13%).

Regionally, almost half of medically fit patients in the east of England and London were discharged for a week (48%), compared to just 29% in the north west of England and 33% in the South West of England.

In the North East of England/Yorkshire the figure was 42%, the Midlands 42% and the South East of England 40%.

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