Ambulance queues as Queen Alexandra Hospital struggles to cope with demand

An archive picture of ambulances outside the accident & emergency department entrance to Queen Alexandra Hospital at Cosham
An archive picture of ambulances outside the accident & emergency department entrance to Queen Alexandra Hospital at Cosham

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Patients are waiting for hours every month before being admitted to A&E, shocking figures obtained by The News reveal.

And the problem is getting worse.

Figures show there have been big increases in waiting times for people being transferred from South Central Ambulance Service (Scas), to Queen Alexandra Hospital, Cosham.

NHS guidelines state a patient coming into A&E on blue lights should be transferred into the hospital’s care within 15 minutes.

But last month, 2,308 patients waited up to half-an-hour, 153 were left waiting more than half-an-hour, 73, waited one to hours, 25 people waited two to four hours, and one person was left for more than four hours.

These figures show a massive increase compared to the past two years.

Between April to June this year, there has been a 7,650 per cent increase in patients waiting between two to four hours.

In 2011, the figure stood at two, but this year it rocketed to 155.

It means ambulances and staff are unable to attend other emergency calls, and patients are not getting treated quick enough.

Penny Mordaunt, MP for Portsmouth North, said: ‘I find these figures totally unacceptable.

‘We need to get more staff into A&E. They clearly need to get more people in.’

Mark Ainsworth, operations director for Scas, said: ‘We’re having meetings with our acute hospital trusts to try and improve this handover time. These queues have an impact on us attending 999 calls.

‘We have been working to get the number down.’

Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs QA, said it is working to drive down the numbers.

A PHT spokesman said: ‘The trust aims to provide the highest quality care possible for patients attending A&E.

‘It is universally recognised that ambulance waiting times are related to multiple factors such as public demand, ambulance activity and availability of primary and community care options, acting as an alternative to hospital.

‘The trust has been working closely with Scas and other community providers to improve handovers.

‘One initiative has involved using GPs to see minor illness and injuries allowing the A&E staff to attend to the more urgent patients.

‘A significant improvement in performance has been achieved.’

Increasing numbers of sick people, not enough staff, and patients not choosing the right care path, have all been blamed for an increase in ambulance handover times.

Figures given by South Central Ambulance Service (Scas), right, show huge leaps in the number of patients left waiting in the back of an ambulance.

Despite NHS guidelines stating patients should be handed over to a hospital in 15 minutes, Queen Alexandra Hospital in Cosham, is not always meeting this target.

The result means ambulances are off the streets and unable to respond to emergency calls, and patients being left on hospital trolleys.

Penny Mordaunt, MP for Portsmouth North, says: ‘There are two things here. Having been out with an ambulance crew, the staff do a great job with keeping the figures down.

‘They have got one of their guys to manage several trolleys of people, so crews are free to do what they should be doing.

‘We need to get more staff into A&E. They clearly need to get more people in.

‘Secondly, the hospital inspector that has been introduced by the health secretary nationally, needs to be in QA.

‘The inspector will be similar to the Ofsted-style that takes place in schools.

‘QA has financial challenges, but it has been given government support, to deliver the best care.

‘Waiting on a trolley is not something we want from the NHS.’

Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs QA, says it has put in a number of measures to deal with the problem:

Ambulatory care was introduced to create a ‘virtual ward’ for patients.

It means they remain under the clinical supervision of QA, but without being admitted.

The patient is then transferred to their place of residence, which is followed up by a clinic if needed.

The Community Assessment Lounge service was introduced in December last year, to help reduce the number of admissions.

A partnership between PHT and community health providers Solent NHS Trust and Southern Health Trust, has created an area, where people are assessed to see if they would be better treated outside the hospital.

A pilot called ‘see and treat’ led to an increase in the numbers of emergency nurse practitioners, and has been rolled out in the hospital.

Patients with minor injuries are checked by the nurses, treated and then discharged.

The Trust is also highlighting the national Choose Well campaign to encourage people to consider where the most appropriate place to receive treatment is.

This includes self-care, pharmacies, GP appointments, minor injuries units, or A&E, if needed.

The NHS 111 number was rolled out earlier this year, replacing NHS Direct, for people needing urgent medical care.

Locally, the service is provided by Scas, which said it is seeing an improvement in the service being delivered.

A spokesman said: ‘We have seen an on-going improvement in performance for the 111 service in Hampshire.

‘Between April 1, to June 30, this year, we have answered 109,363, NHS 111 calls.

‘Our call abandonment figure – where the caller hangs up after hearing the introduction message to 111 – is 2.39 per cent – well below the national target of below five per cent.

‘The percentage of 111 calls transferred to the 999 service is 5.7 per cent, again well below the national average of nine per cent.

‘From these calls we received 60 complaints equating to 0.055 per cent of 111 calls answered.’

David Willetts, MP for Havant, recognises NHS 111 is improving.

He says: ‘Although there have been problems with the 111 service at the beginning, it is improving.

‘The QA is under pressure, but there are many times when it gives exemplary care.

‘For many patients, they have a good experience, but the hospital has to target specific problems like this.’

Meanwhile newly-launched patient group Portsmouth Healthwatch says that the government needs to look at the issue on a national level.