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Reverse ambulance station closures to stop deadly delays

December 9, 2021 6:24 PM
By Rugby Lib Dems

Hospital of St Cross RugbyThe Liberal Democrats have called on the government to provide funding to reverse ambulance station closures, as the latest figures reveal 8,000 patients were stuck for more than an hour in ambulances outside A&E in the last week alone.

Daisy Cooper, the party's Health and Social Care Spokesperson, has today also written to the chair of the Care and Quality Commission, urging him to launch an investigation into the causes and impacts of deadly ambulance delays, including station closures.

These calls form part of an emergency five-point plan to tackle the growing crisis of ambulance delays that is leaving seriously ill patients waiting hours to be treated. In addition to reversing ambulance station closures and launching an investigation, the plan includes bringing in the army to help drive ambulances, passing a new law to increase transparency over waiting times, and launching a new campaign to recruit more paramedics and other ambulance staff.

New official figures published today reveal that ambulance response times to emergency 999 calls are exceeding government pledges in every part of England. In November, the average response time for Category 2 calls (emergency calls involving a serious condition that may require rapid assessment and/or urgent transport, such as a stroke or chest pain) was 46 minutes and 37 seconds - more than double the 18-minute target.

Meanwhile, 19,366 patients spent more than 30 minutes waiting to be handed over from an ambulance to A&E last week - 8,211 of them were waiting for more than an hour.

Last month, the Liberal Democrats secured confirmation from the Government that every ambulance service in England is now at REAP Level 4 - the highest alert level, indicating "extreme pressure". Both the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives and the College of Paramedics have warned that delays are causing patients harm and putting them at risk.

Daisy Cooper MP, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Health and Social Care, said:

"Thousands of people are watching loved ones in agony and distress, waiting hours for an ambulance or stuck in the back of one outside a hospital. Some have even watched them die. This is heartbreaking and it can not go on.

"The Conservatives have run local NHS services into the ground, breaking waiting time promises for years and years.

"Boris Johnson must stop sticking his head in the sand. He must get a grip on this crisis and reverse ambulance station closures that have left communities facing record waiting times.

"Our plan would relieve some of the immediate pressure and help fix the ambulance crisis for good so that people know that they can get to hospital in an ambulance and receive the care they deserve, when they need to."

The Liberal Democrats are calling on the Government to take five urgent actions to tackle this crisis:

  1. Community Ambulance Fund: Make emergency funding available to ambulance trusts to reverse closures of community ambulance stations and cancel planned closures.

  2. Army drivers: Call up members of the Armed Forces to drive ambulances and ease staff shortages this winter.

  3. Staffing: Launch a campaign to retain, recruit and train paramedics and other ambulance staff.

  4. New waiting times law: Pass Daisy Cooper's Ambulance Waiting Times Bill to require accessible, localised reports of ambulance response times.

  5. Inquiry: Establish a Care Quality Commission investigation into the causes and impacts of ambulance service delays.

NHS statistics on delays in handovers from ambulances to A&Es are available here.

NHS statistics on ambulance response times for November are available here.

The government's pledges on ambulance waiting times are:

  • respond to Category 1 calls in 7 minutes on average, and respond to 90% of Category 1 calls in 15 minutes

  • respond to Category 2 calls in 18 minutes on average, and respond to 90% of Category 2 calls in 40 minutes

  • respond to 90% of Category 3 calls in 120 minutes

  • respond to 90% of Category 4 calls in 180 minutes

Daisy Cooper's written parliamentary question confirming that all ambulance trusts are at REAP Level 4 is available here.

Full text of Daisy Cooper's letter to the chair of the Care Quality Commission, Peter Wyman CBE DL:

Dear Peter,

I am writing to urge you to launch an emergency Care Quality Commission inspection of ambulance services across England, following multiple reports of people tragically dying - and thousands more suffering severe harm - due to long 999 response times and long waits to be transferred from ambulances into A&E.

Last month, the Government confirmed in answer to my parliamentary question that every ambulance service in England is now at REAP Level 4 - the highest alert level, indicating "extreme pressure".

New figures published by the NHS today show that ambulance response times are exceeding government pledges in every part of the country. In November, the average response time for Category 1 calls (requiring an immediate response to a life-threatening condition) was 9 minutes and 10 seconds, while for Category 2 (emergency calls involving a serious condition that may require rapid assessment and/or urgent transport, such as a stroke or chest pain) it was 46 minutes and 37 seconds.

Last month, the College of Paramedics warned that:

"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."

Meanwhile, thousands of people are being put at risk of serious harm because of delays transferring them to A&E. In the last week alone, 19,366 patients spent more than 30 minutes waiting to be handed over from an ambulance to A&E. 8,211 of them were waiting for more than an hour.

Last month, a review by the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives found that as many as 160,000 patients a year are put at risk of harm by these delays, with around 12,000 potentially experiencing severe harm. Its report stated starkly that:

"When very sick patients arrive at hospital and then have to wait an excessive time for handover to ED [Emergency Department] clinicians, to receive assessment and definitive care, it is entirely predictable and almost inevitable that some level of harm will arise. This may take the form of a deteriorating medical or physical condition, or distress and anxiety, potentially affecting the outcome for patients and definitely creating a poor patient experience."

It is clear that these ambulance delays amount to a severe crisis in emergency healthcare - one that threatens to get even worse over the winter months.

Paramedics and other ambulance staff are working extremely hard, often for more than 12 hours straight and in very difficult circumstances. They need more support. However, ambulance station closures, staff shortages and hospital backlogs mean that patients are not getting the emergency service they need.

People across the country are seeing their loved ones wait far too long in agony and distress to receive the urgent care and treatment that they need. Most tragically of all, people are even losing loved ones because of these unacceptable delays. This has to stop.

I therefore urge the CQC to hold an emergency inspection into the causes and impacts of ambulance service delays, including station closures. It should bring forward urgent proposals for government action to tackle this crisis, and to ensure that people see an ambulance arrive promptly in emergencies and are transferred to A&E quickly and smoothly.

I look forward to your response.

Yours sincerely,

Daisy Cooper MP

Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Health and Social Care