North West Ambulance Service has apologised to an elderly patient left lying in the road for 45 minutes as the service struggles to meet its response targets because of the growing volume of calls and pressures across the NHS.
The male casualty was apparently clipped by the rear end of a bus in Frodsham Street just before lunchtime on Saturday (April 9) but was conscious and being looked after by an off duty doctor.
NWAS, which was called at 11.52am but didn’t arrive until 12.37pm, says other life-threatening calls had to take priority but accepts the situation was not ideal. The patient, whose condition was not considered 'too serious', was taken to the Countess of Chester Hospital.
A spokeswoman said: “The Trust offers its sincere apologies to the patient for any distress caused whilst waiting for an ambulance as we understand it is a stressful time.”
She added: “All of our 999 calls are prioritised based on the information given by the caller and those patients with an immediate threat to life are dealt with as a priority and for this incident it was established that there was a doctor on the scene attending to the patient.
“Unfortunately, when we are extremely busy, those patients whose conditions are not deemed to be life-threatening and those who are accompanied by a healthcare professional will sometimes have to wait longer for a response.
Patient invited to raise any concerns
“If the patient or their family would like to contact the trust with any concerns we would be happy to look into them further.”
Hard-pressed paramedics are racing from job to job because of a significant rise in Red (life-threatening) 999 calls in the last 12 months (33% compared to 2014/15) and this shows no signs of slowing down. Crews must be on scene within eight minutes for Red 1 and Red 2 calls 75% of the time with a ‘patient carrying resources’ on scene within 19-minutes on 95% of occasions.
Latest trust board papers reveal it is ‘no longer possible’ to achieve its 999 targets for 2015/16.
An NWAS spokeswoman explained: “The majority of patients need to be taken to hospital and this in turn adds to the intake within accident and emergency departments.
“This additional pressure on the hospitals can, in some cases, lead to ambulances having to wait longer to handover the care of the patient and while waiting, they are then unable to get back out on to the road to respond to other 999 calls – leaving some patients waiting longer than we would like for an ambulance response.
Ambulances stacking up at hospitals
“Unfortunately, we have seen an increase in the time it takes for an ambulance to become available at hospital for the next patient and we lose an average of 9.5 vehicles each day due to waiting times.”
However, the trust has introduced 60 new vehicles over the past year and successfully recruited or trained more than 180 paramedics with a further 95 paramedics expected to join the service over the next few months.
Overall numbers of frontline ambulance staff have increased by over 250 new posts, including 26 new additional roles in the trust’s call centres.
This has involved the trust employing qualified paramedics from outside the UK who will be Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) registered.
In addition, any calls triaged as not being life-threatening or potentially life-threatening can be transferred to a specialist paramedic who can ask further questions to ascertain the level of response required. They may then request that an ambulance is despatched but with treatment safely given within the home, negating the need for a journey to hospital.
The spokeswoman continued: “The trust works very closely with our NHS colleagues and our commissioners as part of the wider health network – pressures on one service undoubtedly place pressures on another but we have been extremely proactive in tackling these challenges.”
NHS cuts 'to blame'
Amy Barringer, North West health lead for trade union Unison, blamed inadequate funding of the NHS by the Tory government.
She said: “Since the Conservatives came to power in 2010, the NHS has gone through a sustained funding squeeze. The government keeps cutting the proportion of our national income being spent on health. Despite the best efforts of NHS staff, the inadequate funding provided by government is becoming increasingly evident in greater pressures on hospital wards, longer waiting lists for operations and longer ambulance response times.
“Paramedics do a great job and are working tirelessly to try to meet increasing public demand. But we are concerned that long waits for ambulances might become more common unless the government provides adequate resources.”