Patients’ Lives in Danger Amid  ‘Unacceptable’ Ambulance Waiting Times

The country’s top emergency doctor says the NHS is breaking its “basic agreement” to treat the sickest in a timely manner as 999 callers in England face appalling ambulance response times in the wake of a crisis in emergency care and ambulance services.

In an interview with The Guardian, The Royal College of Emergency Medicine president, Dr. Katherine Henderson, said she is forced to sound the alarm over the “staggeringly bad” and “unacceptable” delays in emergency care. She is concerned that the mounting crisis is putting lives at risk as patients with life-threatening conditions wait far too long for ambulance services.

Severe Pressure At the Root of an Escalating Crisis

Hospitals in England are facing enormous staff shortages, a crisis in social care, and unprecedented demand from patients coming forward after COVID-related absences. “The current situation is breaking the workforce and breaking our hearts,” Henderson said.

With the sustained period of soaring demand, hospitals are struggling to accommodate patients streaming in to Accident and Emergency (A&E) departments while facing challenges in discharging patients amid the social care crisis.

Patients are forced to wait on trolleys in hospital corridors, with healthcare staff often resulting to desperate measures. According to Dr Henderson, “We’ve all started having to use office areas and storage spaces that you can quickly convert into a cubicle.”

In other “surreal” instances, patients are having the entirety of their care delivered in an ambulance. “We’ve almost moved emergency medicine into the [hospital] car park,” Dr Henderson said.

The outcome is ambulance handover delays that prevent the emergency care crews from getting back on the road to respond to 999 callers. “The colossal demands on the ambulance service in the south-west are being mirrored across the UK. Dealing with repeated peaks of pressure with a depleted workforce is taking a huge toll,” Helga Pile, the deputy head of health at UNISON, said.

The Scale of the Crisis

A survey by the Royal College of Emergency Medicine paints a concerning picture of the state of emergency care and ambulance services. An estimated 80% of clinical leads across England’s emergency departments reported holding ambulances daily.

In response to findings that 55% of clinical leads said their longest patient stay was more than 24 hours, Dr Henderson said:

 “The fact that over 50% of departments have people over 24 hours … is staggeringly bad.” Even worse, 23% of clinical leads reported patient stays longer than 48 hours.

There’s no clinical reason why a patient should be there, really, more than six hours. The fact that there’s anybody in the more-than-48-hour category is just unbelievably appalling

Figures from data on the performance of  NHS England show:

  • Ambulance response times for most urgent incidents (life-threatening injuries or illnesses) dropped from a record high of 9 minutes and 35 seconds in March 2022 to 9 minutes and 2 seconds in April 2022.
  • The response times for emergency calls (strokes, epilepsy, burns, etc.) averaged 51 minutes and 22 seconds in April 2022, down from a record 1 hour, 1 minute and 3 seconds in the previous month.
  • Ambulances took 2 hours, 38 minutes and 41 seconds to respond to urgent calls (diabetes, non-severe burns, late stages of labour, etc.) in April 2022. The longest time on record for the category is 3 hours, 28 minutes and 13 seconds in March 2022.

Reacting to the scale of the ambulance wait time crisis, Dr Henderson said, “It’s not acceptable…It’s a very, very significant loss of that basic agreement with the public about the NHS, which is that if you dial 999 and you need an ambulance – which an old person who has fallen downstairs does need – you’ll get one in a timely way.

And we’ve broken that contract with the public. It feels shaming to me that we’re in this situation. We’ve got elderly, vulnerable people at home who need an ambulance … and we can’t get them in.”


Political Unwillingness to Take Action

Dr Henderson argues that “The true barrier to tackling this crisis is political unwillingness.” Her sentiments are echoed by  the Liberal Democrats’ health spokesperson, Daisy Cooper MP, who said ministers had “turned a blind eye” to the ongoing crisis in emergency care and ambulance services that was “leading to devastating consequences for patients and their families.”

However, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said, “The government is absolutely committed to supporting the NHS and improving patient experience. Claims to the contrary are entirely baseless.”

Meanwhile, whilst the Government and medical professions engage in such arguments, the nation continues to suffer.

How to Claim Compensation For Serious Ambulance Delays

Devonshires Claims has over 20 years’ experience in obtaining justice and compensation for victims of medical negligence.  We have clients throughout England and Wales and have been recognised in Legal Directories such as the Legal 500.

We offer our clients:

  • A friendly, compassionate and professional claims service
  • A free case evaluation
  • No Win No Fee agreement
  • Access to a network of medical experts and specialist barristers
  • Our expertise in dealing with a variety of medical negligence claims including very complex medical cases
  • Our expertise in securing the maximum compensation available

For more information on Devonshires Claims ‘No Win No Fee’ ambulance and paramedic claims service contact us today on 0333 900 8787 email or complete our online form.

Get in touch

Devonshires Claims
Ground Floor
30 Finsbury Circus
Finsbury, London