CLOGGED-UP A&E departments are stopping ambulance staff doing their jobs and putting patients at risk, a top ambulance boss has warned.
As health bosses admitted the A&E at Worcestershire Royal Hospital had been stretched to breaking point again this week, Steve Wheaton, assistant chief ambulance officer at West Midlands Ambulance Service, said paramedics up-and-down the country are having to wait for hours with patients in hospital corridors or queueing ambulances outside.
He said the situation means paramedics can “end up doing nurses’ jobs”, impacting on vital response times and putting patients at risk.
“Somebody is going to have a serious 'off' in the street, and we aren't going to be there,” he said.
He warned the service is set to miss its response target - to get to 75 per cent of calls within eight minutes - for the first time in 18 months.
In Worcester on Monday (March 18), paramedics said there were up to nine ambulances waiting outside Worcester’s A&E.
But Stewart Messer, chief operating officer of Worcestershire Acute Hospitals Trust, said this was due to a “sudden surge” between 5 and 6pm, adding: “All the patients were received and handed over to A&E staff within 15 minutes and all the ambulance crews were released immediately.”
He said that, unlike many others, the trust deemed it “unacceptable” to hold patients in the back of ambulances, instead moving them inside, even if that meant they were queued in a corridor until space became available.
He added: “In Worcestershire we work very closely with the ambulance service to minimise delays as we are acutely aware of the need to release crews so they can respond to the next 999 call.”
He admitted A&E departments at both Worcester and Redditch were under “significant pressures” on Monday because of high numbers of patients being admitted over the weekend.
“This is not unusual during winter weather and both have experienced unprecedented increases in demand this year,” he said.
“We have seen ambulance conveyances increase by six per cent and emergency admissions are currently nine per cent higher compared to last winter.”
He said the pressure would normally be expected to ease in March but that had not been the case.
“We are experiencing high levels of very sick and frail elderly patients suffering from respiratory illness, chest and cardiac conditions and stroke,” he said.
The latest statistics show Worcestershire Royal is falling well short of key targets for how quickly it is treating A&E patients.
In the first half of February, just 79.86 per cent of patients were dealt with within four hours of arriving. The national target is 95 per cent.
Mr Messer said everything possible is being done to maintain patient safety and provide the best possible experience at all times.
“It is imperative that we focus on effectively discharging patients to increase bed capacity,” he said.
“On Monday we had 80 patients who were ready to be discharged to their home, to a community bed or required social services assessments and packages of care.
“Our local health economy partners mobilised their teams and supported and as a result we have seen significant numbers of patients discharged, creating the bed capacity to meet the continued demand.”
THE South Worcestershire Clinical Commissioning group said finding an effective way to deal with winter pressures was one of its top priorities.
The new organisation, which decides how and where money should be spent on health services, has been working with providers to formulate a new “urgent care strategy”.
Chief operating officer, Simon Trickett, said: “The time that people spend at A&E in Worcester has been a problem for nearly a decade.
“We are the latest commissioner trying to tackle that.”
There is also ongoing talk of introducing seven-day working patterns, in response to concerns that current shifts are causing particular problems at weekends and the start of the week.
Mari Gay, director of quality and patient safety for the CCG, said: “Proper seven-day working needs to happen because everything grinds to a halt on a Friday afternoon.”
Measures already in place to alleviate pressure on A&Es include GPs accompanying paramedics to assess patients while a new surgical clinical decisions unit is being built at Worcestershire Royal.