Patient care at risk as more ambulances diverted

NHS data examined by the Nuffield Trust health think tank has revealed that during the winter of 2016 / 2017 NHS A&E departments turned away almost twice as many ambulances as during the previous three winters.

In these instances ambulances are diverted to A&E departments at other hospitals because there is no capacity to deal with anymore incoming patients. Blackwater Law medical negligence solicitors argue the practice of diverting ambulances increases the risk of medical negligence as it means patients may face a delayed diagnosis or delayed treatment of their condition as a result.

This trend is of concern among paramedics nationwide who say it has a negative effect on their ability to get to the sick and injured quickly enough to treat them, as they have to spend more time on the road completing longer journeys.

The Royal College of Paramedics’ Richard Webber iterated his thoughts to the BBC in response to the findings:

“There is a double whammy in that not only do crews have to drive further away once a divert is implemented –  once that has happened, an ambulance crew will then also need to travel further to get back to their own area to respond to the next call.”

When patients are not reached or treated by an ambulance crew promptly, there is a significantly greater risk of a delayed diagnosis or misdiagnosis of their symptoms or ailments, which can then lead to a delay in treatment and the patient suffering unnecessarily as a result.

Increased diversions potentially impacting quality of care

The Nuffield Trust also found that ambulance crews have not met a single response time target since May 2015, with figures now showing that around a third of critically ill patients wait in excess of 8 minutes for a 999 response. During the period examined – December, January and February 2017 – no less than 478 ambulances were diverted to alternative hospitals because their target A&E departments could not accommodate the incoming patient. This compares to 265 during the same period the previous year, 258 during 2014-15 and 225 in 2013-14 – a clear increase and undoubtedly a concern for patients.

Patients are likely to be concerned by this latest insight. As ever, behind every NHS statistic is ultimately a patient. In the case of these statistics there are patients who face a delayed ambulance response time and a longer trip to A&E, all which may impact on the care they receive. In the worst and most serious of cases, such delays can have a disastrous impact with long-term health implications for the patient.

The research also highlighted a worrying lack of morale amongst ambulance staff, who are forced to endure long shifts without a break and rarely finish on time. Anonymous sources within the profession used words like “frustrated…demoralised…tired…anxious” to describe the atmosphere amongst them.

Hospitals diverting the most ambulances

Five NHS hospitals were identified as the leading culprits in terms of turning away ambulances, accounting for almost half of all total diversions:

  • Pennine Acute Hospitals – 89 diversions
  • Worcestershire Acute Hospitals – 63 diversions
  • Northumbria Healthcare – 43 diversions
  • County Durham and Darlington – 38 diversions
  • South Tyneside – 34 diversions

NHS Providers’ Saffron Cordery described the trend as “stark”, whilst NHS England has acknowledged that too many diversions are taking place for there to be any realistic chance of meeting response time targets. In a bid to remedy the situation and reduce the number of people potentially forced to make an appeal for medical negligence compensation, the organisation said it was reviewing systems in order to determine if there was a better way to run the ambulance service.

Comment from a medical negligence solicitor

Commenting on the statistics, Jason Brady of Blackwater Law medical negligence solicitors in Essex, said:

“The NHS appears to be failing to meet its targets and this insight from the Nuffield Trust adds further cause for concern.

“For patients to receive the most effective treatment a quick response, early diagnosis and prompt delivery of treatment is important, otherwise patients may suffer serious health implications that could have been avoided.  This can be devastating for the patient where it does occur.”

Patients that have suffered unduly as a result of a delayed ambulance response or delayed treatment may be entitled to make a no win, no fee medical negligence claim with Blackwater Law medical negligence solicitors. Such cases would include but are not limited to undiagnosed stroke claims, undiagnosed internal bleeding claims, delayed diagnosis and misdiagnosis claims amongst others. To find out if you or your loved one may be entitled to compensation, call 0800 083 5500.


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