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Call for vital changes to ambulance services as queues put lives at risk

Rebecca Drew
NHS England has ordered the ambulance service to eliminate queues outside hospitals following the deaths of patients at Worcestershire Royal Hospital and Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge.

In a recent letter, NHS England informed all acute hospitals that handover delays represent 'unacceptable clinical risk' for patients waiting in the ambulance queue and also those in the community whose emergency care is delayed.

The Managing Director of the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives, Martin Flaherty, commented that the ambulance sector is experiencing some of the 'highest levels of emergency activity in its history' and that there are extreme concerns about the 'unprecedented levels of handover delays' occurring in the UK.

This comes as West Midlands Ambulance service raised their risk rating for delays to the highest level for the first time, highlighting that the Trust is increasingly concerned that patient harm will occur.

In September 1,375 hours were lost by ambulances crews stuck outside the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital, while at the Princess Royal 768 hours were lost. In total, the alarming number of lost hours across the West Midlands that month was more than 16,000. And with winter approaching, ambulance services will likely face even higher demand.

Many of the medical negligence team's current cases include substandard care involving an ambulance having been dispatched to the wrong place, crews failing to react to an emergency medical situation, or incorrect handover of the patient on arrival at the hospital.

Often at the heart of these delays are errors in communication between hospitals, urgent care centres and ambulance teams (including the dispatch units) which causes delays that can prove catastrophic when someone dies as a result. Read about Arti Shah's case involving East of England ambulance services, and Iona Meeres-Young's case on behalf of a father of four who died from a heart attack when a London Ambulance Service crew failed to take him to hospital.

Partner Keith Barrett is currently running a case on behalf of the family of James Manning which involves confusion between dispatch and the ambulance crew as to which entrance of Butlins they should use. The family says this caused vital delays in treating James, who choked to death on a sausage at the Bognor Regis holiday park. Paramedics were unable to resuscitate him.

Read the report of the inquest into James' death in the Sun.

Find out more about medical negligence.

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