One in four ambulances is waiting outside London hospitals as they attend to sick patients, new data shows, as health leaders warned that delays were causing “significant harm” to patients.
Nearly three in ten ambulances across England were left waiting last week, with ambulance chiefs warning that delays in handovers were causing patients to die.
NHS figures show staff waited longer than 30 minutes in 26 per cent of the 12,184 ambulances arriving at hospitals in the capital in the week to 20 November. Nearly one in ten (9.9 per cent) waited longer than an hour. ,
The target is to complete the handover within 15 minutes. Doctors have warned of the worst start to winter since records began to paint a grim national picture.
The figures provide the first weekly snapshot of how hospitals are performing this season, as the health service also struggles with record backlogs in care and industrial action by nurses.
Nearly one million Londoners were on waiting lists for regular hospital treatment at the end of September, according to figures published earlier this month.
The figures show that 22,883 delays of half an hour or more were recorded across all hospital trusts in England in the week to 20 November. This was 29 per cent of the 79,076 arriving by ambulance.
Handover delays do not always mean that the patient is waiting in an ambulance as they may have been transferred to an A&E department but staff were not available to complete the handover.
Martin Flaherty, managing director of the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives (AACE), said: “These severe delays pose a twin danger – they cause significant harm to patients who are forced to wait in the back of our ambulances while our crews are trapped. gone and therefore unable to respond to patients who need us in the community.
“As the cold weather draws closer, we have grave concerns that things will get worse in the coming weeks and months.
“The life-saving safety net that provides NHS ambulance services is being seriously compromised by these unnecessary delays, and patients are dying and being harmed on a daily basis.”
A&E departments in the capital are also under severe pressure, according to separate data analyzed by The Standard earlier this month. A total of 8,102 people waited more than 12 hours in A&E departments in London in October before actually deciding to be admitted, double the figure from six months earlier.
Waiting longer than five hours to be admitted to A&E can significantly increase a patient’s risk of dying or becoming seriously unwell, according to research published by the Journal of Emergency Medicine.
Hospitals are struggling to discharge patients and free up capacity in A&E as many beds are occupied by patients requiring adult social care who have nowhere else to go. In England last week an average of 13,179 beds per day were occupied by people ready to be discharged.
This is slightly lower than the recent seven-day peak of 13,723 in early October, but up 25% from the number in the first week of December last year.
Hospitals last week averaged 344 patients per day with the flu — more than 10 times the number seen at the beginning of last December.
NHS England’s national medical director, Professor Sir Stephen Powis, said the health department will look to increase bed capacity this winter, as well as recruiting more call handlers and launching a 24/7 control center to track and manage demand. The service has a “comprehensive” plan.
He said: “This year’s first weekly data shows the considerable pressures facing staff ahead of the NHS entering its most challenging winter ever.
“Hospitals continue to struggle with more patients coming in than going out, there are thousands of patients in hospital every day who are medically fit to be discharged, and so we continue to work with partners in social care to make sure people can leave the hospital when they are ready.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, the membership organization representing the healthcare system in England, said the healthcare service was heading into a “perfect storm”.
“Health service leaders have been warning for weeks that we are now facing one of the worst winters in decades. Sadly, this first tranche of winter data shows the NHS has not been crying wolf ,” They said.
“These figures really emphasize how stretched services already are as we enter a full winter storm. There are a lot more people in the hospital due to the flu than at this time last year, combined with the fact that COVID-19 hasn’t gone away.”