AMBULANCE chiefs claim slow handovers of patients to Northampton General Hospital (NGH) are causing regular and significant delays in paramedics’ readiness for 999 calls.
At an inquest last week, an NGH consultant admitted accident and emergency staff were often forced to “stack” patients, whereby they were left on ambulance trolleys with paramedics until they could be treated.
Huge numbers of patients going to A&E, overwhelming the department’s capacity, has been leading to the problem, it was said.
Richard Clayton, assistant director of operations for East Midlands Ambulance Service (EMAS) in Northamptonshire, said yesterday: “On a regular basis we do experience delays handing patients over to emergency department staff at Northampton General Hospital and this has a significant impact on our ability to get back on the road to respond to emergency calls.
“We are supporting hospitals by placing ambulance clinicians in the hospital emergency department to focus on escalation protocols between the hospital and EMAS, and on hospital handover and ambulance turnaround.”
When an ambulance takes a patient to A&E, hospital staff are required to take over from the crew within a maximum of 15 minutes of arrival.
Only then can an ambulance crew return to their vehicle to get ready for the next emergency call, for which they are allowed 10 minutes preparation time.
Latest figures showed in the first three months of 2011, crews were forced to breach the 15-minute limit 1,178 times.
For that period, seven out of 23 hospitals covered by the EMAS had more breaches.
Last week’s inquest had heard that when 85-year-old Rio Letts was taken to NGH, some patients had been “stacked” for at least three hours.
Responding to the information from the inquest, NGH pointed out it had unprecedented levels of A&E activity in 2011 and said it was working with GPs and NHS bosses to encourage non-emergency patients to go to the correct department.