THE length of time ambulances are forced to wait outside Preston hospital’s A&E has soared, latest data shows.
A severe handover breach – which means the ambulance had to wait outside A&E for more than an hour before the patient was admitted – was reported 141 times in May, nearly five times a day on average.
The figure has seen a sharp increase since Chorley’s A&E closed in April, up from 62 one-hour plus waits in March.
Analysis from North West Ambulance Service shows that an extra 24 ambulances a day are going to Preston, on average, since Chorley closed.
At the beginning of August, one Evening Post reader counted 16 ambulances queuing outside Preston’s A&E on a Tuesday afternoon.
Lancashire county councillor Steve Holgate, who represents Chorley west division, was visiting his mother-in-law, who is recovering from a stroke, at RPH. He said: “I was greeted by that sight and thought, a picture is better than a thousand words. Everyone is saying it’s not making a difference in time and everyone is coping and clearly that’s not the case.
“When you have nine ambulances at A&E and another seven at the entrance all cluttering the place up and not discharging patients for another hour or so, it’s going to have serious implications.”
Neil Cosgrove, branch secretary of Unite, the union and working NWAS paramedic, was also unsurprised by the figures. He said: “I did a shift earlier this week and ended up going to Preston Hospital and it was absolute pandemonium.
“There were nine emergency vehicles waiting outside, plus the helicopter landing. The corridor inside was absolutely full of stretcher patients, the waiting area was full and a manager told me that the average wait time for ambulance crews to hand over patients was an hour and a half, which is absolutely unacceptable.
“Crews are telling me that scenarios like that are becoming more common. We had a six-hour wait to hand over a patient at Southport Hospital recently, and as Preston is the major trauma unit it is often busy.
“Since Chorley closed, crews are on a regular basis having to travel further and that of course takes more time.
“Having crews off the road waiting to hand over patients to A&E departments has a huge knock-on effect on our response times.”
The figures, compiled by Chorley and South Ribble Clinical Commissioning Group, also show an increase in the number of people going to Preston’s A&E. Attendance has increased by 26 per cent from May 2015 to May 2016.
The increase in patient numbers has had an effect on waiting times at Preston. The hospital reported its worst ever statistics, with just 82 per cent of people seen within four hours - the target is 95 per cent.
By contrast, attendances have been reducing at Chorley and South Ribble Hospital, which saw its A&E department close in April. There were 19 per cent fewer people attending in May, compared to 2015.
Suzanne Hargreaves, operations director at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Firstly we want to apologise to any patient who has been affected by a delay in ambulance handovers.
“So far 2016 has been an extremely busy year for hospitals and for wider health and social care services throughout the country, with increased demands being placed upon all emergency services.
“Between April and July this year we have seen an increase in attendance of 16 per cent, compared to the same period last year and we have recently seen our second highest ever attendance levels.
“We are also the regional Major Trauma Centre so we receive all the emergency major trauma patients from across Lancashire and South Cumbria. Since the temporary closure of the emergency department at Chorley we have only seen an average of 13 extra patients a day coming to Preston from the Chorley area.
“There has been an increase in attendance at emergency departments and an increase in 999 calls across the North West.”
“However, we would like to assure the public that we remain committed to providing excellent care with compassion for all of our patients, and our staff in the emergency departments continuously strive to treat, admit or discharge all of our patients within the four hour standard. We are working closely with NWAS to reduce any delays in handover and have a number of measures in place.
“We have put additional nursing staff into the department to enable a dedicated nurse to take handovers, we are also reviewing what additional resources can be put in place to support timely assessment within the service; much of which is focussed on removing any exit blocks from the emergency department into the hospital wards. On a daily basis we have at least 30 patients waiting for either a nursing home or residential home bed.
“We have recently been taking part in a programme which is looking at delayed transfers of care and an audit has shown that at least 46% of our patients did not require an acute hospital bed, however there is a shortage of care home beds in the community.”
“We would like to express our sincere thanks to the public for their understanding and patience and to our staff who are working extremely hard under exceptional circumstances”.