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Practice of diverting ambulances creates luck of the draw situation for patients

It’s a frightening scenario: you or a loved one becomes seriously unwell but after a call to the ambulance service and hours later you are still waiting for paramedics to arrive. It’s a situation that is thankfully relatively rare but can have very serious consequences and is unfortunately on the increase.

Last year my client Derek Styles lost his wife Beryl to a complication of diabetes after a three-hour ambulance wait. Investigations have revealed that errors in the call handling process staff sickness and annual leave and a motorway closure caused the significant delay from the North West Ambulance Service. I am helping Derek to challenge these avoidable errors and hold the ambulance trust to account. Hopefully lessons have been learned but with the service provided by ambulance trusts nationally on the decline the risk of the same thing happening to a patient in another part of the country is all too real.

Double whammy

Over the weekend the BBC reported that overcrowded hospitals closed their doors to ambulances nearly 500 times over the winter, diverting them to other hospitals. Paramedics have warned that the practice is slowing their ability to get to the sick and injured quickly. The Royal College of Paramedics told the BBC that the diverts have a double whammy effect as not only do crews have to drive further to drop of patients but they also have a longer distance to cover to get back to their own area and respond to the next call.

Topping the list for the number of times ambulances were diverted to other areas was the Pennine Acute trust, which runs hospitals in Oldham, Bury and North Manchester. Crews were diverted 89 times from this failing trust, which has been rated inadequate by watchdog the Care Quality Commission.

Luck of the draw

Hospitals say that when an ambulance divert is put in place it is done so to protect patient safety in A&E. Maintaining a safe A&E environment is vital but the system seems grossly unfair to other patients who face a luck of the draw as to whether they need an ambulance before or after the hospital doors close. If it is after then it is their patient safety that is threatened and ambulance delays can have very tragic consequences. It seems the crisis facing many of our hospitals is now spilling over into the ambulance service and lives could be lost if it is not addressed.

You can read more about the Beryl Styles case, which has featured in the national and regional media, here.



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