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Ambulance crews faced with 'longest hospital delays on record'
AMBULANCE crews are being forced to queue longer than ever before they are able to pass patients on to medics in A&E.
South Central Ambulance Service paramedics spent an extra 14 hours on the tarmac at Wycombe Hospital and 128 additional hours waiting at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in December.
Delays at Wexham Park Hospital were up to 256 hours, while SCAS crew queued for 170 hours at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.
In total, SCAS ambulances spent 1,984 excessive hours waiting around at the hospitals it serves, which equates to 2.7 ambulances effectively being out of action for the entire month, the information obtained by the BBC under the Freedom of Information Act revealed.
Director of patient care at SACS Fizz Thompson told the Free Press: “Patient safety is our top priority. SCAS would never leave a patient without an appropriate clinical handover to hospital clinical staff.
“When we have ambulances queuing at hospital it means that our crews have to look after patients on trolleys in the Emergency Department (ED).
“On occasion, ambulances can wait for a considerable time at hospital because of capacity problems within that ED and when they do, they are unavailable to respond to 999 medical emergencies.
“SCAS has, in partnership with hospitals across the South Central Region, developed contingency plans to ease patient flows and to free up ambulance resources delayed at hospital.
“Multi cot vehicles and marquees may be used in exceptional circumstances, for example if there is no physical room left for us to queue inside the Emergency Department, or if the trust is faced with a major incident.
“We may have to do this in order to release ambulances to respond to 999 emergencies in the community.”
The deputy NHS chief executive David Flory wrote an open letter to health chiefs in June over concerns of ambulance to A&E handovers.
In the letter, he said he “expected” patients to be transferred from the care of ambulance crews to hospital staff within 15 minutes.
The letter states: “There is increasing concern about the ongoing problem of patient handovers from ambulances to hospitals.
“While this is not a widespread problem, the unacceptably long handover times in a number of places is sufficient to warrant our focused attention.
“There should be no doubt the delays have an adverse impact on patients’ experience of the service and may increase risk to patient safety.
“We must therefore take a “zero tolerance” approach to handover delays, and recognise that there is a joint responsibility on ambulance and hospital trusts to ensure such delays are minimised.”
Mr Flory went on to state he had encouraged appropriate action to be taken against organisations where patient transfers were problematic.