Nearly 600,000 delays to ambulance handovers during winter months

In the three month period from December to February almost 600,000 ambulances faced delays of more than 15 minutes whilst patients were handed over to staff.

The previously unpublished data, which differs to the official NHS England data shows that in total delays of 15 minutes or more were experienced on 594,279 occasions. In 186,000 instances ambulance staff had to care for patients in hospital corridors or the back of vehicles for at least 30 minutes or more.

Delays of 15 minutes or more are considered to provide a threat to life as they could prevent ambulance services from attending the most severe or critical cases such as stabbings or heart attacks whereby a quick response is required. Such is the severity of impact that a potential delayed ambulance response could have, all NHS Trusts were informed by senior hospital figures that handovers must take place within 15 minutes. As a result, those who experienced extended handover times and where the patient outcome was negatively affected may be entitled to pursue a medical negligence claim.

The data also appears to show a significant variation in the number of patients experiencing long delays depending on the hospital. Watford General Hospital had the highest percentage of waits of 15 minutes or more, with 87.9 percent of handovers taking at least this amount of time. 87.4 percent of handovers in February took more than 15 minutes at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn Norfolk. The hospitals that have experienced the longest handover times may find themselves at an increased risk of a hospital negligence claim.

Dr Nick Scriven, the president of the Society for Acute Medicine, which represents hospital doctors specialising in emergency medicine, said:

“This is clearly showing a massive risk not only for those waiting to get into hospital, but also those waiting for an ambulance to attend to them in the community after a call for help. This is another breach of a target put in place to maximise patient safety.”

The findings come as it was revealed that up to 55,000 non-urgent operations were postponed until February, along with thousands of outpatient appointments and scans, raising great concern over patient welfare. Although it was anticipated that only routine and non-urgent operations would be rescheduled for a later date, data has suggested that this also includes cancer operations. 43 trusts have confirmed that they cancelled or rescheduled at least one cancer surgery between December and February. Although it is not known what surgeries were cancelled or at what stage the cancer was at, delayed treatment to cancer can have a severe impact on patient recovery and outcomes and therefore these trusts may find themselves facing a delayed diagnosis claim in order to seek compensation should this delay have adversely impacted their recovery.

Typically the spring months offer the NHS some rest bite from the influx of patient numbers experienced during the colder winter months, however, given such a backlog of patients requiring treatment it is questionable as to the extent to which this will occur.

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