More than 1,100 ambulance hours lost to handover delays at Ipswich, Colchester and West Suffolk A&Es

The Garrett Anderson Centre at Ipswich Hospital. Picture: ALEX FAIRFULL

The Garrett Anderson Centre at Ipswich Hospital. Picture: ALEX FAIRFULL - Credit: Archant

The equivalent of 92 ambulance staff shifts were lost in January due to delays at A&E in Suffolk and north Essex, it has been revealed.

The emergency department at West Suffolk Hospital. Picture: PHIL MORLEY

The emergency department at West Suffolk Hospital. Picture: PHIL MORLEY - Credit: Archant

New figures show crews from the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust (EEAST) spent 1,112 hours – or 46 days – waiting longer than they should at Ipswich, Colchester and West Suffolk hospitals to handover patients last month.

The target is for ambulance staff to transfer patients to A&E within 15 minutes of arrival, but when hospitals are busy they are forced to queue.

Chris Jenkinson, the East of England regional secretary for UNISON, said: “Ambulances stuck outside hospitals waiting to transfer patients is just one example of the unsustainable pressure that the whole of the NHS is under. Sadly, with services stretched to the limit it’s staff and patients who are suffering the most.

“This winter has shown that it’s unrealistic to expect the NHS to cope with a crisis, when it’s already running at full capacity and staff are stretched all year round.”

Colchester General Hospital. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Colchester General Hospital. Picture: GREGG BROWN - Credit: Gregg Brown

EEAST is in the spotlight due to allegations of patient deaths caused by slow ambulance responses this winter.

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Following a risk summit with NHS bosses, the trust is introducing a new procedure on Monday to help ambulance crews get back on the road from A&E quicker.

A spokesman said: “It sets out clear escalation procedure if ambulance crews have to wait longer than 15 minutes to handover a patient at hospital. If the patient is waiting for more than 30 minutes, hospitals and ambulance crews are to work in partnership to ensure safe transfer.”

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The trust has also secured a “significant” increase in funding for more staff and vehicles.

Jan Ingle, head of communications at Ipswich and Colchester hospitals, said the trusts had seen a high volume of ambulances arriving at the same time during peak winter periods, with patients suffering with more complex problems.

“It’s our priority to make sure patients are safe and the ambulance crews get back on the road as soon as possible,” she added.

“The new 15-minute handover programme which is being introduced from next Monday has given us the opportunity to look at how we can improve the way we work together and the way we care for patients so we can do our best to achieve this standard.”

Helen Beck, chief operating officer at West Suffolk Hospital, said the trust was supporting EEAST with its new hospital handover programme.

She added: “We always endeavour to free up ambulance crews as quickly as we can to allow them to attend emergencies in the community, and the vast majority are. Our emergency department has to directly respond to the flow of patients who arrive in the back of ambulances, and these numbers are often unpredictable.

“Our emergency department nurses and doctors work closely with ambulance crews to ensure patients aren’t left waiting any longer than necessary, and to start delivering hospital care whilst they are waiting, but handover times can, and will still be, a challenge in busy periods.”

The figures sourced from EEAST and seen by this newspaper show 2,791 ambulances arrived at Colchester A&E in January, with 420 hours lost due to handover delays longer than 15 minutes.

There were 2,413 ambulance transports to Ipswich and 375 lost hours; and 1,966 ambulances arrivals at West Suffolk, with 317 hours lost.

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