AMBULANCES are waiting outside Queen Alexandra Hospital for an average of six hours every day, The News can reveal.
Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show that between April 1 and November 23, the 15-minute handover at the A&E department was exceeded 6,055 times.
This led to paramedics waiting for a total of 1,525 hours to hand over patients to the Cosham hospital.
The delays have seen ambulances tied up, leading to emergency response times not being hit.
Simon Haill, manager of patient watchdog group Healthwatch Portsmouth said: ‘It’s evident that these ambulances are under extraordinary pressure.
‘The problems occur partly when ambulances are waiting in the car park at the hospital to get to the A&E department.
‘Once there is one build up, it just gets longer and longer.’
The backlog at A&E has led to increased pressure on South Central Ambulance Service to meet its targets.
Ambulances must attend 75 per cent of life-threatening incidents within eight minutes.
But latest figures show that Scas is failing to meet this target in many areas.
In Havant, ambulances reached just 73.3 per cent of calls in time, while in Fareham the figure stood at 72.5 per cent.
Waterlooville is the most under-performing with response teams reaching just 62.1 per cent of emergencies.
Gosport is just above the target at 76.3 per cent, while Portsmouth is performing well at 80.9 per cent.
In a statement, Scas said there was more pressure as demand for 999 services had increased more significantly than anticipated over the past year.
It added: ‘We recognise that this is absolutely not acceptable and we take our response to every patient incredibly seriously.
‘There is a knock-on impact for our services if we are unable to offload patients at A&E and we can struggle to get vehicles back to outlying areas that are further away from the hospital.
‘We are working hard to ensure that we are able to provide an equitable service to all our patients across Hampshire and are always looking for new ways to improve services and strive to provide a high quality service for all our patients.’
There are currently 200 vacancies for paramedics in the Scas region, which covers Hampshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, and Oxfordshire.
Scas said it has had to employ private ambulance companies to meet the current demand.
And it recently forged a partnership with Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service to attend life-threatening emergencies and deliver vital treatment, if an ambulance is delayed.
It said it was also working with voluntary community responders in Waterlooville, such as St John Ambulance, to offer support if needed.
Meon Valley MP George Hollingbery said: ‘It’s a real cause for concern for Waterlooville residents.
‘I will be writing to the Scas to ask it about the situation and why this appears to be happening.’
Fareham MP Mark Hoban criticised the response figures.
He said: ‘It’s unacceptable that ambulances are failing to meet their targets.
‘All services should be meeting a minimum of 75 per cent.’
As previously reported, NHS guidelines state a patient coming into A&E on blue lights should be transferred into the hospital’s care within 15 minutes.
If the hospital trusts fail to meet that, then a penalty is issued.
Clinical Commissioning Groups, which came into effect in April last year, pay for health services to be provided.
For each delay over 30 minutes, CCGs can place a fine of £200, meaning a wait of an hour can lead to a fine of £1,000.
In a statement, Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs QA, said action had been taken to alleviate the delays.
It said it had created a ‘dedicated handover area’ in the emergency department and increased staff.
The statement added: ‘Since September, we have a new process called ambulance streaming in place which carries out an instant triage of patients on arrival at hospital allowing the Scas crews to handover in a prompt manner to a dedicated nurse.
‘Patient safety is always our primary focus.’
It added: ‘There are occasions throughout the year when increased attendances and increased demand for admissions outstrips discharges.
‘Winter is a prime example of this, when acuity of patients and increased elderly admissions impact on our ability to accommodate, in a timely fashion, all ambulance arrivals to the emergency department.’
Ambulance response times
The below percentages show the number of ambulances that reached emergency calls within eight minutes. Calls are categorised into two areas:
- Red 1 – incidents which are life-threatening.
- Red 2 – incidents that are life-threatening but less time critical.
All ambulances across the country must meet 75 per cent of Red 1 and Red 2 calls within eight minutes.
Red 1: 80.9%
Red 2: 81.6%
Red 1: 76.7%
Red 2: 75.4%
Red 1: 62.1%
Red 2: 64.2%
Red 1: 73.5%
Red 2: 72.9%
Red 1: 72.2%
Red 2: 74.4%
Source: South Central Ambulance Service
MP praises performance of medics
PORTSMOUTH South MP Mike Hancock praised the performance of medics both in ambulances and at the A&E department.
But he expressed concern for the surrounding areas.
He said: ‘I think the performance of ambulances across Portsmouth just goes to show how dedicated our ambulance teams are. I’m delighted to hear of the figures for Portsmouth.
‘When I was at QA recently, I saw for myself how busy the departments were. I think the hospital would do all they can to help those in need.
‘There is so much pressure on the A&E department at the hospital.
‘Paramedics need to get to incidents quickly.
‘Having more paramedics on our roads would be excellent, however I don’t think we will see that happen just yet.’
Plan to make waiting times longer criticised
TARGET times for ambulances to reach some seriously-ill patients could be lengthened.
A leaked document, includes plans to change the response time for some Red 2 patients – those with serious but not the most life-threatening conditions – from eight to 19 minutes.
It said proposals have been approved by health secretary Jeremy Hunt, pictured, subject to confirmation from the medical directors of 10 ambulance trusts.
But the Department of Health said ‘no decisions have been made’ and Mr Hunt would only agree to plans that improve response times for the most urgent cases.
The current target is for an emergency vehicle to reach those in life-threatening situations within eight minutes.
According to the leaked memo, drawn up by the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives, NHS England has agreed ‘in principle’ to relax the maximum ambulance wait for some Red 2 incidents, which include a range of serious problems including strokes.
The only higher category is Red 1 – ‘immediately life-threatening’ incidents such as cardiac arrest, choking and major bleeding.
The changes would see about 40 per cent of Red 2 incidents move to a 19-minute response target while the proposed date for implementing the plans is the first week of January, the report states.
Andy Burnham, Labour’s shadow health secretary, wrote to Mr Hunt to demand answers on the plans and ask why Parliament was ‘treated with contempt’ three days after he signed them.
He said: ‘It is outrageous that he decided to keep MPs and the public in the dark about a decision he had already taken.
‘Patients are already waiting hours on end for ambulances to arrive.
‘People will struggle to understand how, in the middle of a crisis, it makes sense for the government to make a panic decision to relax 999 standards and leave patients waiting even longer.’
Tony Hughes, GMB ambulance service regional officer, said: ‘If these plans go ahead we will see more people die from conditions that can be treated given the right resource is with them in good time.’