An ambulance trust lost more than 2,500 hours to turnaround delays at Worthing and St Richard’s hospitals in nine months.
Figures revealed by South East Coast Ambulance NHS Foundation Trust (SECAmb) show 1,689 hours were lost as patients transferred from ambulances to Worthing Hospital between April and December, 2015, and 1,309 hours were wasted at St Richard’s in Chichester.
The figures for Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs both hospitals, shows the number of hours lost has increased by 69.5 per cent over the last three years.
Speaking at a meeting of West Sussex County Council’s Health Adult and Scrutiny Committee (HASC) in December, Paul Sutton, chief executive of SECAmb said paramedics faced ‘consistent pressures’ across the patch, including patient handovers at acute hospitals.
He was asked by councillors to quantify the scale of the A&E queues at hospitals at a ‘typical’ time of day.
“We can often have over a third of our resources not available because they are tied up waiting to hand over patients at hospital,” Mr Sutton told the committee.
He added the ‘non achievement’ of the target and the loss of ambulance hours is one of SECAmb’s ‘biggest risks’.
While the figures for Worthing Hospital show a 62 per cent increase in the amount of the time paramedics waited at hand overs from 2013 to 2015, there was a four per cent improvement between 2014 and 2015. The nationally agreed performance standard for handing over patients is 15 minutes, from the ambulance arriving at the A&E department but the hours lost to turn around delays across Sussex have increased by 35 per cent in three years.
To improve the performance, SECAmb and health commissioners are preparing to make changes at Worthing’s A&E.
Jane Farrell, chief operating officer at Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We always admit ambulance patients to our accident and emergency units as quickly as possible but there are a number of reasons why the length of time it can take to do this has been increasing.
“The most significant of these is the growing pressure the hospital and community health care system faces, in particular in being able to discharge patients from hospital as soon as they are well enough to leave.”
Ms Farrell said delayed discharges are running at ‘double the level’ they were a year ago which reduce the number of beds available and create bottlenecks in A&E. “Alongside this, A&E services are under more pressure than ever before, and patients arriving by ambulance today are generally sicker than those we saw in the past,” she added. “This means their admissions are likely to be more complex and take longer to complete.”