Shock 37% rise in 'blue light' ambulances that take more than 30 minutes to reach casualty
Patient groups up in arms and blame figures on cutsMail on Sunday has led campaign to stop A&E closures and cost cuttingBut NHS says patients must accept shut downs to ensure service's survival
00:52 GMT, 30 December 2012
Thousands of the most seriously ill emergency patients are being forced to travel further to hospital in ambulances following a swathe of A&E closures and downgrades.
Figures obtained by The Mail on Sunday show that the number of patients with life-threatening conditions taking longer than 30 minutes to reach A&E has rocketed by an average of 37 per cent in two years.
Most of these people will be transported by ‘blue light’ ambulance – so the extra journey time means they are being transported further than ever to access emergency care.
There has been a huge rise in the number of patients taking 30 minutes or more to get to A&E. Patient groups blame cost cutting
Figures from ambulance trusts across England show a rise of up to 63 per cent in just two years in the number of priority Category A patients spending 30 minutes or more on the road after being collected by paramedics.
Such patients are so ill that trusts have a legal requirement to get paramedics to 95 per cent of cases within eight minutes. But there is no upper limit on the time it takes to get them to hospital.
The shocking rise in journey times has been attributed to the closure and downgrading of A&E departments, with some operating limited opening hours.
But it also shows the effect of the Government’s policy to introduce major trauma networks, which means some of the most seriously ill patients go to specialist centres rather than the closest local casualty department.
While paramedics are highly trained and can perform life-saving techniques, the disclosure still raises fears that patients are being put at risk by such policies.
Hope Daley, of trade union Unison, which represents ambulance workers, said: ‘Alarm bells should be ringing in the Government and the Department of Health about this shocking rise in the time it takes seriously ill people to get to hospital.
Concerned: Public services trade union Unison, pictured here at a previous picket, said 'alarm bells should be ringing' in the Government over the revelations
‘Patients need fast, efficient treatment without having to wait in pain. The financial straitjacket on the NHS is leading to A&E units up and down the country closing or reducing their hours to daytime only. The Government must see that its policies are damaging the ability of the NHS to care properly for patients.’
A Mail on Sunday investigation uncovered 33 hospital emergency departments which have either already been closed or downgraded, or are under threat of closure.
Senior NHS executive Mike Farrar this week warned that the public must accept the closures if the health service is to survive and called on politicians to back the changes. But many MPs are preparing to join campaigns and protest marches in their constituencies against the unpopular moves.
Doctors are still largely divided on the issue. While some claim the changes will improve patient care and mortality rates, others insist it puts patients at risk and dismantles the NHS.
Shadow Health Minister Andrew Gwynne said: ‘David Cameron promised to put doctors in control, but he has allowed A&E closures to be driven through even where they don’t have clinical support. Ministers must take urgent action to ensure patients don’t pay the price for his broken promises on the NHS.’
This newspaper revealed in September that Category A patients in Newark, Nottinghamshire – where the A&E department closed last year – took an average of 90 minutes to reach an alternative casualty department after the initial 999 call. The latest figures, obtained after a Freedom of Information request, illustrate the national picture for the first time, covering eight out of 11 ambulance trusts in England.
Senior NHS executive Mike Farrar has warned the public must accept cost cutting measures if the service is to survive
In the area covered by South Central Ambulance Service, the number of Category A patients taking longer than 30 minutes to reach A&E increased by 63 per cent between 2009-10 and 2011-12 – representing an additional 2,000 patients waiting longer before being seen in hospital.
HOW MoS CAMPAIGN HAS LED WAY
In July we revealed a swathe of cuts and downgrades to casualty units across the country, turning what was seen as a local issue into a national scandal.More than 40,000 readers signed our petition calling on Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to halt the closures – but he has ignored them.In September we revealed a mounting backlash from doctors as hundreds signed a letter to David Cameron warning of the dangers.Last month we revealed more than half a million patients taken to hospitals by ambulance were forced to wait for longer than 30 minutes on trolleys because of the pressure on remaining casualty wards.Last week we highlighted the appalling case of a three-month-old baby needing a paediatric intensive care bed who had to wait in A&E as none was available in the whole of Britain.
The picture was similar in the North East – where A&E units in Bishop Auckland and Hartlepool have closed in the last few years – with an additional 1,500 patients facing a 30-minute transit compared with two years ago, a rise of 62 per cent. In this area, patients with a certain type of heart attack or suffering major trauma are now taken to specialist units rather than district hospitals.
In Yorkshire, 17,305 seriously ill patients spent 30 minutes in transit compared with just over 11,000 in 2009 – an increase of more than 50 per cent. Several A&Es in Yorkshire have closed or have been downgraded and others have limited opening hours.
The numbers in the area covered by South East Coast Ambulance Service represent a rise of 37 per cent in two years, and in the East Midlands there were 23 per cent more journeys taking longer than half an hour in just 12 months.
In the West Midlands the numbers rose by 27 per cent.
The exceptions to the national picture were in the East of England, where there was a rise of less than one per cent, and in London, where the number of journeys taking longer than half an hour fell by around a third.
Roger Goss, of campaign group Patient Concern, said: ‘We’re getting close to crunch time when we find out who was right – the medics who tell people they are more likely to survive if they travel to a specialist unit, or those who said patients would be arriving at A&E in a box.’