Faye Shepherd (pictured), who is on placement at South Western Ambulance Service, warned about the handover delays
A trainee paramedic has revealed how she treated just one patient during a 14-and-a-half hour shift, in an example that lays bare the scale of the NHS crisis.
Faye Shepherd said she spent the entire shift on Monday caring for the patient in the back of an ambulance while waiting for a bed to free up in A&E.
The student, on placement at South Western Ambulance Service, warned that the handover delays are leaving ‘people dying waiting for ambulances’.
She also described how her ambulance was 23rd in a queue of 25 vehicles stuck outside waiting to offload patients at an emergency department in a separate incident last month.
More than 1.3million emergency calls were made in England in October — up 273,025 on the same period last year, the latest figures show.
In the same month, more than 7,000 patients waited 12-plus hours to be seen in A&E in October — more than triple the number in the same month pre-Covid.
The unprecedented demand, combined with worsening handover delays, has left heart attack and stroke patients waiting nearly an hour for an ambulance.
Paramedic bosses have said crews are currently seeing two to three patients in a shift, whereas normally they would get to up to eight.
It came as South East Coast Ambulance Service declared a ‘critical incident’ because of a ‘significant’ IT issue, and urged patients to avoid calling 999 where possible.
Ms Shepherd posted this picture after her shift on Monday night, saying they had only helped one patient because of the queues outside the hospital
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
Ms Shepherd wrote on Twitter yesterday morning: ‘During last night’s 14.5 hour shift, we saw one patient.
‘That’s not because there’s no demand, but because we were stuck at hospital for the entire duration, waiting for bed space.
‘Meanwhile, people are dying waiting for ambulances. What part of this is sustainable [Health Secretary] Sajid Javid?’
She added: ‘We were not able to hand over our patient to the hospital before the end of our shift, so a day crew drove to the hospital and took our patient on, which released us to go home.’
It came as an NHS official yesterday admitted hundreds of thousands of 999 calls every month are from desperate people asking where their ambulance is.
Father, 70, dies of suspected heart attack after 70-minute wait for an ambulance
A 70-year-old father has died of a suspected heart attack after waiting an hour and 10 minutes for an ambulance.
The man from south east London, who has not been named, made the first call to 999 and then alerted his two daughters.
One daughter Emma, not her real name, rushed to his house from her home two miles away.
She made repeated frantic calls to 999 pleading for an ambulance, but was told one would arrive ‘within 41 minutes’.
An hour after the first call was made the man stopped breathing, and Emma had to give him CPR.
An ambulance eventually arrived 69 minutes after the first call.
His daughter Jane, also not her real name, who is in her 30s said: ‘The emotional trauma of witnessing this and desperately trying to save his life, knowing he was seriously let down, is overwhelming.
‘His last words to (Emma) was that ‘this is the most excruciating pain I’ve ever had’ and she now has to live with that.
‘Nothing will bring him back but we will do all we can to make sure no-one else loses their life unnecessarily and no-one else goes through this trauma.’
Ambulances in England aim to respond to category 2 calls such as strokes and heart attacks within 18 minutes, and reach 90 per cent of all calls within 40 minutes.
But the latest data for October shows ambulances are taking 53 minutes and 54 seconds to reach patients, or almost three times as long.
A London Ambulance Service spokesman said: ‘Our thoughts are with the patient’s family and friends during this difficult time and we send them our deepest condolences.
‘We are looking into how we responded to the patient, and would encourage the family to reach out to our patient experiences team so we can support them in reviewing what happened.’
There were more than 1.3million calls made in October — a record — but three quarters were from repeat callers pleading for an update on the arrival of their ambulance.
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 said patients are spending ‘too long in A&E’ but cannot be discharged due to an overstretched social care system.
She warned last month that there was a ‘palpable sense of concern’ among staff because of the delays.
NHS data for October shows the average waiting time for some emergency 999 ambulance calls has 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, the organisation’s chief executive Chris 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 them 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
Ambulance service declares ‘critical incident’ and tells patients to avoid calling 999 for help
An ambulance service today declared a ‘critical incident’ and urged patients to use alternatives to 999.
South East Coast Ambulance Service said it had hit the emergency button after suffering a ‘significant’ IT issue.
A spokesman said: ‘Following a significant IT issue overnight, we have declared a critical incident this morning.
‘Our staff are working extremely hard as we continue to respond to patients.
‘We would ask that you consider alternatives to calling 999, including NHS 111 online, unless it’s absolutely essential.’
It is the second time in a week that an ambulance service has experienced a technical issue.
On November 10 East of England Ambulance Service said its IT had experienced a failure.
As a result, 999 calls had to be temporarily rerouted to neighbouring ambulance services.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Three-quarters of 999 calls are repeat callers pleading for an ambulance
Some three-quarters of 999 calls are repeated callers pleading for an ambulance, a health boss has revealed.
There were more than 1.3million calls to the service made in October, which was a record.
But chief executive of NHS Providers Chris Hopson said the vast majority were people asking where their ambulance was.
He told NHS Providers annual conference yesterday:’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.’
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.
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.’