Ambulance waiting times outside York and Scarborough hospitals have rocketed as the health system buckles under “extreme pressure”, NHS leaders have been told.
There were 675 occasions where ambulance crews had to wait more than an hour before seriously ill patients could be passed into the care of medics in December 2021, up from just 44 times in December 2020 – a staggering increase of more than 1,400 per cent.
The number of times ambulance have had to wait 30 minutes to an hour has also doubled to 479 over the same period.
The York and Scarborough Teaching Hospitals NHS Trusts’ performance position is in “a parlous state” despite the best efforts of staff, consultant cardiologist Steven Holmberg told a meeting of the board of directors.
Mr Holmberg, a non-executive director on the board, said: “Last month we saw an increase in ambulance handover delays which may now be remitting, but they were extraordinary last month – completely unprecedented, I think.”
Waiting times for cancer treatment and diagnostics are also under “extreme pressure”, Mr Holmberg said.
“There’s no doubt that patient harm is resulting from this position,” he added.
A handover delay does not always mean a patient has waited in an ambulance. They may have been moved into an A&E department, but there were no staff available to complete the handover.
The trust has been working with Yorkshire Ambulance Service in relation to growing concern across the Yorkshire region regarding the impact of ambulance handover delays and risk of harm to patients.
The impact of the pandemic has continued to exert huge pressure in the region’s hospitals, despite case numbers falling in the community.
Wendy Scott, the trust’s chief operating officer, said Covid was hitting hospital capacity, staffing numbers, and the ability to discharge patients back into the community.
York Hospital had four Covid positive wards as of last month, with three Covid positive areas at Scarborough Hospital.
Nearly 1,000 staff across the trust were off sick as of January 11.
Board papers also show that 12 hour trolley waits in York and Scarborough have risen from 14 in December 2020 to 298 in December 2021.
Over the same period, the number of people waiting in emergency departments for more than eight hours has risen from 503 to 1,661.
Temporary tent idea
Trust leaders have recently discussed the possibility of erecting a temporary tent outside emergency departments to cope, though there may not be enough space outside York Hospital.
Their use might help support the message to the public to avoid emergency departments “unless absolutely necessary”, trust leaders have said.
The trust’s chief executive Simon Morritt said at the board meeting last week that he hoped Covid cases would drop across York and North Yorkshire over the coming weeks.
He said: “There is hope that we will get through this. The issue around delayed discharge is consistent across the whole of the north-east and Yorkshire.
“That’s because all partners are under the same intense pressure and are struggling in particular with staff.”