Ambulance ‘waiting rooms’ cost NHS £11m

The NHS has wasted more than £11m using ambulances as “waiting rooms” to get around Labour’s target that patients should be treated within four hours of entering casualty.

New figures reveal the time spent by crews waiting outside hospitals for their patients to be admitted last year was the equivalent to funding 31 fully staffed ambulances to do nothing for 24 hours a day.

The statistics released by NHS ambulance trusts show the amount of time ambulances are forced to remain idle is increasing each year. In the first nine months of 2009 the total so-called “dead time” in England reached 284,000 hours — more than the whole of 2007.

The four hour target was introduced in 2004 in an effort to end the scandal of patients left on trolleys overnight waiting to be seen by doctors.

However, it has led to hard-pressed casualty departments refusing to admit patients until they can be sure they can be seen within the four hour limit. Waits of more than two hours occur in hundreds of cases each year.

Mike Penning, a shadow health minister, said: “It is a scandal that desperately needed frontline paramedics are trapped at hospitals around the country because of Labour’s fixation with the target culture.

“It can’t be right that bureaucracy has taken over from clinicians being able to put patients first, rather than watching the clock. Millions of pounds are being wasted and patients are suffering.”

The Conservatives have promised to slash the number of NHS targets and hand more power to doctors.


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