100,000s of 999 calls are from patients asking where their ambulance is, health chiefs reveal

100000s of 999 calls are from patients asking where their


NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson says people calling 999 requesting an update on their delayed ambulance is contributing to a record number of emergency calls

NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson says people calling 999 requesting an update on their delayed ambulance is contributing to a record number of emergency calls

Hundreds of thousands of 999 calls each month are from desperate people asking for updates on where their ambulance is, NHS bosses have admitted.

More than 1.3million emergency calls were made in England in October — up 273,025 on the same period last year.

The unprecedented demand, combined with worsening handover delays, has left heart attack and stroke patients waiting nearly an hour for an ambulance. 

But three quarters of these extra calls — almost 205,000 — are people repeatedly pleading for an update on the arrival of an ambulance crew, according to NHS Providers.

The admission from Chris Hopson, who is chief executive of the body which represents NHS trusts, comes in the midst of deadly NHS emergency care crisis that is seeing thousands of patients waiting up to 13 hours for an A&E bed.

There are growing reports of patients dying in the back of ambulances in hospital car parks and in NHS corridors because of handover delays. 

NHS England boss Amanda Pritchard has also commented on the crisis, saying patients are spending ‘too long in A&E’ and unable to be discharged due to an overstretched social care system. 

A record number of 999 calls were made in England in October, with 1,012,143 urgent calls for medical help made. But the time it took answer these calls also increased to a record 56 seconds

A record number of 999 calls were made in England in October, with 1,012,143 urgent calls for medical help made. But the time it took answer these calls also increased to a record 56 seconds

The NHS has long struggled to meet its recommended ambulance response times for Category 2 incidents which include medical emergencies such as strokes and severe burns but the last few months months have seen unprecedented rise with patients waiting nearly an hour on average for an ambulance after calling 999

The NHS has long struggled to meet its recommended ambulance response times for Category 2 incidents which include medical emergencies such as strokes and severe burns but the last few months months have seen unprecedented rise with patients waiting nearly an hour on average for an ambulance after calling 999

Paramedic cares for just ONE patient in 14.5-hour shift due to hospital queues 

A paramedic has described only caring for one patient in a whole shift due to handover delays at hospital.

Faye Shepherd, a student paramedic for South Western Ambulance Service, said on Tuesday that she saw just one patient in a 14.5-hour work day because her crew was ‘stuck at hospital for the entire duration waiting for bed space’.

In October, Ms Shepherd had described the ‘palpable sense of concern among staff’ as her ambulance was ’23rd in the queue out of 25 ambulance crews waiting to enter the emergency department’. 

The comments come as NHS data for October shows the average waiting time for some emergency 999 ambulance calls reached 54 minutes.

This is triple the 18-minute target for ambulance trusts to respond to these ‘Category 2’ calls, which includes strokes and heart attacks.

Speaking at the NHS Providers annual conference yesterday, Mr Hopson said: ‘We think that about three quarters of the extra phone calls that are coming in on 999 are repeat diallers basically trying to find out what’s happened to the ambulance they are having to wait far too long for.’

Ms Pritchard also warned about the pressures the health service is under in a separate speech at the NHS providers conference yesterday.

While she said the health service was still dealing with ‘thousands’ of people seriously ill with Covid, she warned the NHS was under even more pressure from non-Covid patients.   

‘Even greater pressure is being felt in the non-Covid urgent and emergency care system as people come back to our services having perhaps, for understandable reasons, stayed away during the pandemic,’ she said.

Ms Pritchard said there were ‘challenges’ in discharging patients to a ‘very stretched social care system’ which resulted in delays in A&E with a knock-on effect on ambulance response times.  

‘Patients are spending too long in A&E, meaning ambulances are spending too long waiting to hand over patients, meaning response times are not what any of us would want them to be,’ she said.

She also added that there was no sign this would abate in the short-term and the NHS and patients have a potentially grim winter ahead. 

‘Indications suggest, we are not going to get any let up for a while,’ she said. ‘The next few months are going to be a winter like no other.’

In recent weeks, South Central Ambulance Trust has urged 999 callers to continue to hold and ‘stay on the line’ if their calls aren’t answered swiftly as a high volume of calls is causing significant delays to response times.

Nationally, nearly one in ten patients classed as a ‘category two’ emergency are having to wait nearly two hours for an ambulance.

Waiting times for life-threatening ‘Category 1’ calls, such as when someone is not breathing or their heart has stopped, are also the worst on record.

Category 1 incidents, the most serious, life threatening emergencies, have also seen delays with patients waiting nine minutes and 20 seconds for an ambulance, well above the NHS's target of seven minutes

Category 1 incidents, the most serious, life threatening emergencies, have also seen delays with patients waiting nine minutes and 20 seconds for an ambulance, well above the NHS’s target of seven minutes

Eight NHS ambulance bosses got £20,000 bonuses this year – despite record emergency call times

Eight NHS ambulance bosses were awarded taxpayer-funded bonuses worth up to £20,000 this year, MailOnline has revealed.

The revelation comes amongst pleas for ministers to call in the Army to tackle the ambulance sector’s current crisis which has seen patients die in hospital car parks. 

Heart attack and stroke sufferers now have to wait almost an hour for an ambulance to arrive, which medics say is due to unprecedented demand triggering a record number of 999 calls and a lack of space in hospitals forcing vehicles to be parked outside because of handover delays.

Despite the shocking figures, senior executives at three trusts were given bonuses and pay rises during the last year.

West Midlands Ambulance Service’s chief executive Professor Anthony Marsh saw his salary increase by £50,000 to £235,000 in the year ending March. He also received a bonus of between £15,000 and £20,000, despite not getting any add-ons before the pandemic.

Five directors took home bonuses totalling up to £60,000 at South Central Ambulance Service in the same year, while North East Ambulance Service’s chief executive raked in more than £15,000. 

Critics today slammed the bonuses, calling it an ‘insult’ to taxpayers.

Daniel Boxall, media campaign manager at the TaxPayer’s Alliance said: ‘We keep hearing the health service is facing a cash crisis, and it’s little wonder when ambulance trusts give out generous pay packages like these.

‘Not only is this an insult to taxpayers, but it’s even worse for the patients who have suffered because of mismanagement. Taxpayers’ hard-earned money should go towards treating the sick, not feathering the nests of the top brass.’

Guidelines state ambulances should respond to these within seven minutes, but in October they took nine minutes and 20 seconds on average.

In one case in Waveney, Suffolk a woman died because so many ambulances were stuck outside a hospital nobody could respond to the 999 call.

The patient was classified as Category 1, meaning a crew was meant to be on the scene in seven minutes, but it took the ambulance an hour to arrive – by which time she was dead.

Meanwhile, one stroke patient in Norfolk waited nine hours for a vehicle, while his wife called 999 six times.

Health chiefs warned that when patients finally get to hospital, many are facing further waits outside hospitals.

Investigations are underway into several incidents where patients died while trapped in queues of parked ambulances because A&Es were too busy to admit them.

Paramedics say they are operating under ‘horrendous’ pressure and ‘start every shift knowing patients will be put at risk’ 

Dr Katherine Henderson, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, has said: ‘Patient safety is very much at risk – long waiting times and long stays, ambulance handover delays, dangerous crowding – these are appalling practices that can lead to avoidable harm or death.’

Richard Webber, of the College of Paramedics, said his colleagues ‘have never before experienced anything like this at this time of the year’.

He added: ‘Every day services are holding hundreds of 999 calls with no-one to send.

‘The ambulance service is simply not providing the levels of service they should – patients are waiting too long and that is putting them at risk.’

Speaking to the BBC, he added: ‘We have members who have been working for 20, 30 years, and they have never before experienced anything like this at this time of the year.

‘Every day, services are holding hundreds of 999 calls with no one to send. Patients are waiting too long and that is putting them at risk.’

Mr Webber pointed to lengthy delays in handing patients over to hospital staff, with waits of three or four hours not uncommon.

‘It means on a 12-hour shift we can only attend two or three incidents, whereas previously we would do six, seven or eight,’ he said.

NHS England wrote to trusts and integrated care systems at the end of October telling them to take urgent action to ‘immediately stop all delays’ to ambulance handovers, and that ‘corridor care’ is ‘unacceptable as a solution’.

Trusts have reported record levels of A&E attendances in recent months, with ambulance services across the country declaring black alerts due to escalated pressure.

West Midlands Ambulance Service warned last month that it is causing ‘catastrophic’ harm to patients due to handover delays.

The pressure the emergency care sector is under comes as it was revealed eight NHS ambulance bosses were awarded taxpayer-funded bonuses worth up to £20,000 this year.

The revelation, from MailOnline, comes amid pleas for ministers to call in the Army to tackle the current crisis.  

Despite shocking waiting times, senior executives at three ambulance trusts were given bonuses and pay rises during the last year.

West Midlands Ambulance Service’s chief executive Professor Anthony Marsh saw his salary increase by £50,000 to £235,000 in the year ending March. 

He also received a bonus of between £15,000 and £20,000, despite not getting any add-ons before the pandemic.

Five directors took home bonuses totalling up to £60,000 at South Central Ambulance Service in the same year, while North East Ambulance Service’s chief executive raked in more than £15,000. 

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Ambulance service bosses were given bonuses worth up to £20,000 this year despite the current crisis in waiting times and handover delays that have caused patients to die in the back of vehicles. Map shows: The total upper bracket of performance pay and bonuses received by ambulance trust directors in the year April 2020 to March 2021 in trusts across England.

Critics today slammed the bonuses, calling it an ‘insult’ to taxpayers.

Daniel Boxall, media campaign manager at the TaxPayer’s Alliance said: ‘We keep hearing the health service is facing a cash crisis, and it’s little wonder when ambulance trusts give out generous pay packages like these.

‘Not only is this an insult to taxpayers, but it’s even worse for the patients who have suffered because of mismanagement. Taxpayers’ hard-earned money should go towards treating the sick, not feathering the nests of the top brass.’

Data yesterday revealed 160,000 patients are harmed each year because of the delays. The NHS target is for handovers outside hospitals to last no longer than 15 minutes — but the number waiting more than an hour has quadrupled in a year.

Sajid Javid was yesterday urged to call in the Army to deal with the burgeoning staffing crisis, which has already been done in Scotland and Wales to bolster their struggling services.

Hospital handover delays ‘harming 160,000 patients’ every year 

Delays handing patients from ambulances over to A&E departments is thought to be one of the main triggers of the worsening response times.

A report by the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives (AACE) yesterday showed the problem is not new, but both the number of patients affected and the length of the delays are rising. 

The AACE said up to 160,000 patients each year could be affected due to long periods waiting to be admitted. Of these, 12,000 suffer ‘severe harm’. 

National targets set out that all handovers should be completed within 15 minutes and none should exceed more than 30 minutes. But since April 2018, an average of 190,000 handovers have missed the 15-minute target, with the figure rising to 208,000 this September — the most recent date figures are available for.

The delays are caused if hospitals are busy, if people who don’t need emergency care show up at A&E and if the patient flow into and out of hospital is disrupted, the report states.

And the College of Paramedics told MailOnline the ‘consistent deterioration of response times’ and ‘lengthening handover times’ are at the heart of the current crisis.

This leaves insufficient numbers of ambulances free to respond to emergency calls in the community, meaning patients ‘routinely wait several hours’.

The college said: ‘This problem is not new… We can show reports going back over a decade where ambulances queuing has made the headlines, but now the scale is so enormous that it can no longer be ignored.

‘We appreciate that this situation is incredibly complicated and the pandemic is still playing a part in the wider landscape, but this is truly unacceptable.’ 



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