Patients in life-threatening conditions waiting too long for ambulance

Two ambulances wait at the scene of a collision where one of the units was involved on Spring Road.

Ambulance wait times were very high last month due to demanding and sustained conditions - Credit: Su Anderson

Patients have been left waiting nearly an hour for ambulances after reporting chest pains as the service struggles to cope with demand.

For the first time in two years, the average wait faced by patients in Category 1 - those with immediately life threatening injuries and illnesses - was more than 10 minutes in October, having risen gradually since March when the average wait time was just 6.6 minutes.

The East of England Ambulance Service has a target of reaching Category 1 patints in an average of seven minutes, with 90% off responses within 15 minutes.

In October, the average was 10 minutes and 37 seconds - nearly 50% longer than the target time - and 90% of ambulances arrived within 19 minutes and 19 seconds.

There were also delays for Category 2 patients including those reporting chest pain or stroke symptoms. The trust reached patients in an average of 56 minutes during October, against a target of 18.

In trust should reach 90% of patients within 40 minutes for at least nine out of 10 call outs.

The last time the trust met the 18 minute target for Category 2 calls more than a year ago in June 2020.

An East of England Ambulance Service spokesperson said: “The health and care system is currently under significant pressure and we are working with partner organisations to reduce handover delays and the impact they have on our response times and patients.  

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“To help deal with current demand we are well advanced in recruiting additional call handlers and also healthcare assistants who will work in teams at hospitals to care for patients and help release ambulances back on to the road. 

“We urge anyone who needs the NHS  and is unsure what service to use to come forward through NHS 111 Online which helps identify the best option for your care." 

Earlier this week it was reported that a patient in Suffolk died because so many ambulances were stuck outside a hospital that nobody could respond to their 999 call. 

 Kerry Swan

Kerry Swan had a positive experience with getting an ambulance last month - Credit: Kerry Swan

However, Kerry Swan was full of praise for the service after her experience, she  said: "I had no problem when I was breathless on October 31 they didn't take long at all, I was lucky, first responder came within 15 minutes then soon after the ambulance service turned up, took me straight to Ipswich Hospital.

"I was treated very quickly from start to finish."

Feature on Focus 12 - Risbygate Street, Bury St Edmunds. Pictured is new chief executive Andy Yacoub

Healthwatch Suffolk chief executive Andy Yacoub. - Credit: Archant

Andy Yacoub, chief executive of Healthwatch Suffolk, said: “We are never more vulnerable than when in need of our emergency services. Regardless of where problems exist within the ‘system’, patients have a fundamental right to expect a prompt and safe response to their needs from our local services.

"Frontline staff like paramedics are, at the same time, passionate about meeting people’s needs in a timely manner. But, right now, the intense pressures faced by our health and care system, and staff fatigue, is compromising their ability to meet those expectations. This can lead to serious incidents and impact on public trust in the services."

He called for better communication over delays to reassure patients and their carers and added: "Communication offers reassurance and helps people to know that help is on the way."

Mr Yacoub said: "At the same time, the public must ensure that it is helping the service by using it in the right way and being respectful to the staff who are trying their best to help."

Dr Dan Poulter felt it was safe for most people to go out - but they should still take precautions l

Dr Dan Poulter shared his thoughts on the increased ambulance delays - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP, Dr Dan Poulter said: “The NHS is under huge pressure with the unmet demand for health services during the peak of the pandemic resulting in problems and delays across the system.  

"However, patients in Suffolk should not be waiting nearly an hour for an ambulance, so ambulance service leaders will need to continue to work hard to improve matters so that patients in Suffolk can receive the quality and speed of service they deserve.”