Ambulance delays continue to put patients at risk

31st January 2020 Clinical Negligence

A BBC investigation published this week has identified ambulance waiting times of over an hour for heart attack, stroke and burn victims, amongst other seriously ill and injured patients.

These findings are deeply concerning and urgent action needs to be taken to avoid the potential devastating impact delays could have on patients and families.

A heart-breaking example reported by the BBC is the story of Derrin Cozart, 55, who collapsed at home on his own and rang 999 after he came to. It was over an hour before the ambulance crew had arrived, by which time he had sadly passed away.

NHS staff are calling for change, which its patients desperately need. Ambulance Service employees have commented that "All our staff are working flat out" and that the issue is as "frustrating for staff as it is for patients".

It seems that in order to work towards a solution, the scale and potential causes of the problem, as identified in today’s news report, need to be recognised.

A historic problem

Ambulance delays have been a key issue for the NHS over recent years, with a previous BBC investigation undertaken in 2016 identifying a national struggle for ambulance services to reach seriously ill and injured patients quickly enough.

At the time of the 2016 investigation our clinical negligence team represented the family of a grandmother who died after a three hour ambulance wait.

Who is currently effected and how many ‘long waits’ are there?

It has been identified that the patients suffering from ambulance delays are those who are classed as second most serious (‘category two’). The ambulance services are having to prioritise the most serious ‘immediately life threatening’ cases, such as cardiac arrests.

Category two emergencies are:

·         Heart attack (if conscious and breathing)

·         Serious injury/trauma (not including uncontrollable bleeding)

·         Stroke

·         Possible blood poisoning

·         Major burns

·         Fits


It is reassuring that long waits for immediately life-threatening cases are unusual - just one in 270 cases took longer than 30 minutes to reach. That works out at less than 40 a week.

However for category two cases, the data obtained by the BBC showed that there were 385,000 waits of over an hour from January 2018 to September 2019 out of just over six million incidents responded to. That works out at more than 4,000 a week on average - or one in 16 calls.

What is causing the current delays?

The NHS have suggested that rising demand and delays in handing over patients at A&E are to blame.

This second problem is particularly frustrating as many ambulance services have increased their numbers of staff. However crews are increasingly left queuing outside hospitals.

The future

It seems clear that change needs to come from both those inside and outside of the NHS. The Director of Operations of East Midlands Ambulance Service commented “Every part of the system wants to tackle these issues, but it’s clear that we need more staff and beds and well-functioning social care.”

The Department of Health and Social Care in England have said the government was increasing funding for the health service and had set aside a dedicated pot to invest in ambulance services.

From the BBC’s investigation it seems that any new measures to help the ambulance services need to target ‘category two’ patients and the delays in handing over patients at A&E.

We hope that changes can be made to secure the safety of future patients.

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Ellen Driscoll is a Solicitor located in Manchesterin our Clinical Negligence department

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