999 staff queue at hospitals as waiting times rise

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GROWING pressures on hospitals in Yorkshire have led to a significant worsening in turnaround times for ambulance crews as they face lengthening waits to deliver patients for treatment.

More than half of ambulance crews waited longer than a 25-minute target to hand over patients, clean-up and restock vehicles between April and January.

Waiting times have lengthened at 13 of 19 hospitals served by the Yorkshire Ambulance Service compared with 2010-11 amid signs hospitals are facing intensifying pressure as numbers of patients rise, while budgets are cut.

The delays have a knock-on impact on 999 response times by preventing crews answering calls as they queue to deliver patients.

Figures show waiting times are longest at Leeds General Infirmary and Huddersfield Royal Infirmary, with 63 per cent of ambulances held up by more than 25 minutes in the 10 months to January.

Sixty-two per cent of waiting times at Wakefield’s Pinderfields hospital, which has come under scrutiny due to the overnight closure of A&E at neighbouring Pontefract, were over 25 minutes.

Crews faced lengthy waits in only 24 per cent of cases at Sheffield Children’s Hospital.

Overall in Yorkshire, 52 per cent of ambulances had to wait for more than 25 minutes compared with 47 per cent in 2010-11.

Ambulance Service Network director and NHS Confederation deputy policy director, Jo Webber, said: “There is no doubt that the NHS is coming under extreme pressure as finances are so tight and the service undergoes a fundamental re-organisation.

“Despite these pressures, the ambulance service continues to get to more and more people within target times and is offering better care. Hospitals also continue to stay overall within target for the four-hour waiting time target.

“When the system is under pressure, it is usually at the boundaries between organisations that you see the signs of strain. Getting this right requires all parts of local health and social care systems to work together to make sure care for patients is as safe and efficient as possible.”

One solution to reduce delays involves setting up screens in A&E units with live information on in-bound patients. But the programme’s roll-out has been slow due to little support from hospitals although the system has been introduced in Leeds.

A Leeds hospitals spokesman said work to tackle delays had been under way for some time. Patients arriving in ambulances included those coming to A&E, were brought directly to assessment units and for heart attack treatment. Performance was improving and in December 95 per cent of patients were handed over to A&E staff within 24 minutes.

Huddersfield Royal Infirmary said: “On occasions our hospitals may experience very busy times and during them we work closely with our partners in the ambulance service to keep turnaround times to a minimum.”

David Williams, of Yorkshire Ambulance Service, said: “During periods of high demand hospitals may experience busy periods which, understandably, can result in delays.

“On these occasions, patients are cared for by ambulance staff who work alongside hospital staff to ensure they are admitted as quickly and as safely as possible.

“More recently we have been working to place information screens at emergency departments so clinicians have prior knowledge and can prepare for patients being transported to them by ambulance.”