By Charlotte Webster-
Excessive delays faced by patients in some rural areas is disturbing and calls for a significant improvement.
Patients wait almost three times longer for emergency ambulances than those in towns and cities, while people with potential heart attacks or strokes now face a one hour 40-minute average wait in one area, statistics have shown.
The news was revealed following a freedom of information requests by the Liberal Democrats to England’s 10 ambulance trusts, which in turn covered waiting times for 227 areas across the country.
Ambulances were reported to be taking over 15 minutes, more than twice the standard expectation of 7 minutes to attend to patients.
The number of paramedics has increased by 13% since March 2018, statistics show that the number of sickness has increased from 5% in March 2019 to 9% in March 2022, the highest rate of any organisation type within the NHS.
Ambulances are generally waiting for longer periods with patients outside hospitals. In July 2022, more than 1 in 10 ambulances waited over an hour – up from almost 1 in 50 in 2019.
The longest average wait for such calls was in Mid Devon, with a time of 15 minutes 20 seconds, almost three times as long as the average of 5 minutes and 48 seconds in Hammersmith, west London.
Overall, 83% of the areas across England missed the seven-minute target for category one calls
The longest average wait was in Cornwall, at just over one hour 41 minutes. Two years ago, the equivalent figure was 32 minutes. In 32 areas, average waits for category two calls have doubled or more over this period.
Only two of the 220-plus areas for which there was information managed to get below the target of 18 minutes on average – Croydon in south London, and one district of Carlisle.
Unions say the problems facing the emergency care system as one of the factors that has led to the vote for a strike.
The Royal College of Nursing has planned a strike for 15 and 20 December in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, while earlier this week the two main unions representing ambulance staff said their members had also backed walkouts.
The government said the NHS will publish its emergency care recovery plan in the new year, which will set out proposals to improve ambulance response times and A&E performance in England.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said an extra £500m was being made available to speed up hospital discharges and free up space in A&E, creating the equivalent of at least 7,000 more beds this winter
“This will be supported by an additional £6.6bn in the NHS over the next two years to enable rapid action to improve urgent and emergency care performance towards pre-pandemic levels,” he added.
Daisy Cooper, the Lib Dems’ health spokesperson, said: “This stark postcode lottery means that if you suffer a heart attack or stroke, your chances of getting to hospital on time depend on where you happen to live.
“Ministers must bring forward extra support to get ambulance services through winter as well as a long-term strategy to ensure people can get emergency care when they need it. That means addressing workforce shortages, fixing the social care crisis and ending the shortage of hospital beds, all of which are leaving patients in ambulances stuck outside A&E for hours.”
An increase in hospital capacity with more beds and staff has been suggested by the Health Foundation .
Ambulance service capacity needs to increase by raising staff numbers and reducing sickness absence by addressing the causes of poor mental health, the foundation suggests.
stment in community services, such as mental health services, which can prevent health conditions becoming crises.
An estimated 5,000 patients in England potentially suffered “severe harm” through waiting so long either to be admitted to A&E or just to get an ambulance to turn up to help them.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We recognise the pressures the NHS is under and are taking urgent action to support the ambulance service and staff so they can deliver high quality care to patients.”
This included an additional £500m for freeing up hospital beds, the spokesperson said, pointing also to £3.3bn per year for the next two years announced in this month’s autumn statement.