Ambulance service boss warns bed shortages are harming patients

Steve Wheaton of West Midlands Ambulance Service has said nearly 2,000 ambulances had waited more than an hour in March.Ambulance service boss warns bed shortages are harming patientsPatients in the West Midlands are suffering as hospital bed and staff shortages mean ambulances cannot unload patients, a senior ambulance boss says.

He said the situation was the worst he had known in his 20 year career.

The service covers Shropshire, Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Warwickshire, Staffordshire and the West Midlands conurbation.

The ambulance service is regularly leaving paramedics with patients in corridors – called cohorting.

Occasionally, vehicles are answering emergencies without a stretcher because the patient is still lying on it in hospital.

“Patient safety is our number one priority and we do our best to make sure that we look after patients, but it is becoming increasingly hard to maintain a 999 service and a service to patients in a corridor,” Mr Wheaton said.

“Corridors are not the best place for patients to be nursed.”

Mr Wheaton said hospital delays were impacting on 999 response times.

The West Midlands has consistently had among the best response times in the country.

But calls are literally stacking up, with patients who dialled 999 having to wait more than an hour because there are no vehicles available.

Mr Wheaton said: “I am sure that if you looked through some of the cases, that we have seen patients where their chances of survival would have improved, or the outcome of their care could have been better, had we got there faster.”

This year, ambulance activity has increased by 6%, but the trust said it had recruited 60 extra paramedics to cope.

Documents reveal the worst turn-around times are at Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust, University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire and Russells Hall Hospital, Dudley.

He said A&Es at the trust’s three sites received “the highest volumes of ambulances” by far across the region and he urged people to only use A&Es in emergencies to help cope with “unprecedented” demand in the region.

From April, hospitals will start being fined for not releasing ambulances quickly enough.

Mr Wheaton said, on present levels, the fines would cost Heart of England £17 million a year.

Documents also show that this week six hospitals across the region declared an internal emergency due to a shortage of beds.

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