Trust given huge fines for keeping patients waiting

An ambulance arrives at the Accident and Emergency Department of Queen Alexandra Hospital, Cosham.
An ambulance arrives at the Accident and Emergency Department of Queen Alexandra Hospital, Cosham.

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THE NHS has had to shell out hundreds of thousands of pounds in fines as patients are waiting too long to be seen by A&E staff.

From April 2009, to March 2012, £685,849 has been paid to South Central Ambulance Service (Scas) after paramedics were held up at Queen Alexandra Hospital in Cosham.

The fine stands at £2.44 for every minute an ambulance is delayed. Over the three years, this adds up to 195 days of hold-ups for paramedics.

In one case, ambulance staff were left waiting for more than three hours before the patient was finally admitted.

The fines are paid out by primary care trust cluster Ship, which covers Portsmouth.

John Nicols, interim chief operating officer for Scas, said this is a major concern for the service.

He said: ‘I’m quite concerned about these handover times, particularly as we move into winter.

‘There’s no evidence it’s improving, which makes us worried about the coming months. There are peaks and troughs with patients coming in. There is some predictability, you see what’s happened in previous years and have a level of resource.

‘Irrespective of that you can get an influx of activity.

‘From our perspective the emergency department has to keep up with that.

‘We do that at Scas. If demand is high then our clinically qualified managers and supervisors go out on the roads.’

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

But in September, one patient was left waiting three hours and 37 minutes before being handed over to A&E at QA Hospital.

As previously reported in The News, the hospital is struggling to cope with an unexpected surge of people coming through the doors.

So a patient is not left alone, paramedics wait with them until the hospital can take over – keeping ambulances off the streets.

In September, this year there were 3,500 ambulance arrivals into QA.

Of those just under a third – 1,100 – had to wait more than 15 minutes before being handed over. This has racked up £36,500 in fines.

The money goes towards running frontline ambulance services.

A spokesman for Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs QA, said: ‘The emergency department has seen a recent and dramatic rise in demand for its acute services.

‘The hospital has worked closely with Scas to successfully manage the increase in demand, we have done this by introducing more handover staff, which has directly reduced turnaround times.’