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Patients ‘suffering harm’ amid Cambridgeshire ambulance service delays



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Patients are suffering “avoidable harm” because of the “unprecedented pressures” on Cambridgeshire’s ambulance service.

Chief executive Tom Abell of East of England Ambulance Service Trust
Chief executive Tom Abell of East of England Ambulance Service Trust

Concerns over “extreme workforce fatigue and staff welfare” were also raised as figures were revealed showing the East of England Ambulance Service Trust is falling well short of response times targets, even for patients with life-threatening illnesses.

A report to the service’s board in November describes a “worsening picture” in relation to its ability to respond to patients in a “timely manner and deliver a safe service”.

One patient with a punctured lung was found to have been laid face down on the floor for seven hours until an ambulance arrived.

Another patient suffered a stroke and had to wait nine hours – from 10pm to 7am – for an ambulance to arrive despite six calls to the service.

The family asked the service if it “will come out in the future if he has another stroke or will he just be left to die?”.

Another shocking example involved an ambulance taking an hour to arrive at a ‘category 1’ call to find the patient had died. Category 1 calls are life-threatening emergencies where immediate intervention or resuscitation is required, for example a cardiac or respiratory arrest.

The EEAST board report reveals that activity has increased by 17 per cent compared with the last three years and this, along with hospital handover delays and staffing issues due to sickness absence and Covid isolation, is placing huge pressures on the service.

It says “significant avoidable harm is now being seen in scenarios directly attributable to handover delays”.

EEAST chief executive Tom Abell told the November board meeting: “We continue to lose significant numbers of frontline ambulances to delays at hospitals across the region with over 12,000 hours of ambulance time being lost in October due to ambulances queuing outside of hospitals over the national handover time of 15 minutes.”

Mr Abell said he had written to every hospital chief executive in the region “on actions we can support them with to improve hospital delays”.

Shadow Secretary of State for Health, Jonathan Ashworth MP at Cambridge Ambulance Station, with Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner . Picture: Keith Heppell. (53210637)
Shadow Secretary of State for Health, Jonathan Ashworth MP at Cambridge Ambulance Station, with Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner . Picture: Keith Heppell. (53210637)

He added: “These board members will be as concerned and distressed as I am at the impact that this current situation is having on our ability to deliver the standard of care and I am extremely sorry to those patients, families and colleagues which have been affected.”

A report published on Monday (November 15) by the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives (AACE) of a clinical review of handover delays of over 60 minutes and the potential harm they cause to patients.

The review found that the proportion of patients who could be experiencing unacceptable levels of preventable harm is significant. In a study of January 4, a “usual day” in activity levels, 100 per cent of EEAST’s delays of more than one hour resulted in some potential level of harm.

Last week, shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth met with Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner and paramedics at the city’s ambulance station. He said: “Our ambulance services are totally overstretched. The average response to a category two 999 call (suspected stroke or heart attack) was 54 minutes wait,according to latest stats – longest ever.”

Mr Ashworth called on the government for an urgent NHS and social care plan.

He said ambulance chiefs were warning of the pressures with “160,000 patients a year coming to harm because ambulances are stuck outside hospitals”.



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