East Midlands Ambulance Service (EMAS) has revealed a total of 645 hours lost in one month by frontline staff in Northamptonshire due to time spent with patients in hospital before they can be handed over to doctors.
High pressure on hospital A&E departments across Northamptonshire has led to paramedics spending longer looking after patients while waiting for them to be accepted by clinicians, rather than returning to the road responding to calls.
When our crews are tied up at hospitals it means they are not out on the road responding to 999 calls.Blanche Lentz, EMAS general manager for Northamptonshire
The maximum target for time spent by paramedics in hospital when delivering a patient is 15 minutes, but 6,000 hours were lost across the East Midlands last December alone due to turnaround delays of longer than 30 minutes.
Of this number, 294 hours were lost at Northampton General Hospital (NGH) and 351 hours at Kettering General Hospital.
Blanche Lentz, EMAS general manager for Northamptonshire said: “Hospital handover times refer to the time it takes for A&E units to accept a clinical handover from our ambulance crews. The process involves passing on the patient’s medical information and discussing any treatment given by our crews.
“When we and hospital A&Es are experiencing significant peaks in demand, it can result in some delays in handover times. When our crews are tied up at hospitals it means they are not out on the road responding to 999 calls.”
NGH explained that recent handover delays have been due to the highest demand they have ever experienced in A&E patients. The issue, it added, is partly down to pressure on social services to then take on patients who no longer need immediate hospital attention but still require special care.
A spokesperson said: “We have been dealing with unprecedented levels of demand for our services and we are seeing increasing numbers of seriously ill, often older, patients. This is combined with delays in discharging patients who are no longer in need of medical treatment and are well enough to leave hospital.
“We’ve introduced measures over the last year that mean we have improved the quality and safety of our care. This means that despite the waiting times, we continue to provide safe care for our patients.
“We’ve also taken steps to expand the capacity in the emergency department and opened a new discharge suite to free up beds more quickly when patients are ready to leave.”
“However, the pressure on our emergency and acute services over the past two months has been relentless. We are working with our partners in health and social care to address these issues, both in terms of dealing with the immediate pressures but recognising that we need a better long term approach.”
EMAS is also on board with working on new measures to improve the situation and reduce the time that paramedics spend in hospital.
Mrs Lentz said: “At NGH we have a Paramedic Team Leader who acts as a Hospital Ambulance Liaison Officer (HALO) who is able to monitor capacity at the hospital and ensure handover happens as quickly as possible.”