Seventeen ambulance crews were left queuing outside the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital in chaotic scenes, which meant they were unable to attend other 999 calls because of the long delays.
An EDP photographer captured the long queue outside the N&N on Wednesday night after we received information about the serious tailbacks.
The 17 vehicles were the entire fleet of ambulances serving the N&N and officials from the East of England Ambulance Service said crews were not able to attend 12 other 999 calls because of the delays. As a result, other ambulances had to be drafted in from further afield.
A frustrated paramedic called the EDP to say: “This week has been horrendous. Ambulances have been parked up on the grass verge. It has been like it all week waiting three to four hours with patients. We cannot do anything here and it is extremely frustrating.”
Chris Cobb, director of medicine and emergency care at the hospital, said the level of new emergency attendances and admissions were “off the scale” this week. He added that the hospital should be able to cope with 15 ambulances turning up at once.
However, some private ambulances did not have the technology to let A&E know that they were turning up.
Wednesday night’s problems came ahead of a meeting yesterday where health chiefs admitted there were no quick fixes to slow ambulance turnaround times after it emerged that the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital could be hit by fines of up to £3.5m a year.
Members of the Norfolk Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee expressed their concern after Norfolk’s main hospital had been unable to address the problem of ambulances queuing at the front door of the Colney site with patients waiting to be seen by A&E staff.
Ambulance officials said the ongoing issue was contributing to the service’s slow response times in Norfolk, which has led to the trust receiving criticism from MPs and patients in recent months. Councillors were told that all NHS organisations in central Norfolk were working together to try to resolve the issue of handover delays. The N&N is required to meet a target of seeing 85pc of patients within 15 minutes of their arrival by ambulance. However, that figure for the last 10 months is 76pc.
Chris Cobb, director of medicine and emergency care at the N&N, said the foundation trust could be hit by financial penalties of up to £3.5m a year, which would pose a “significant impact.” He said that the hospital had struggled to recruit new A&E consultants and was looking to train up some new nurse consultants to improve services. He added that officials were drawing up plans to refurbish the front end of the hospital site to aid ambulance turnaround flow. The meeting heard that full beds in community hospitals and on inpatient wards in acute hospitals were creating a backlog at A&E and delaying new admissions.
Andrew Morgan, interim East of England Ambulance Service chief executive, said the trust had speeded up the time it took to get back on the road following patient handover as part of efforts to improve the performance of the NHS trust.
“I think we need more resources out there, but it is a bit chicken and egg. The more we put out there, the more we can add to the queue. Not being able to respond to a call keeps me awake at night. We want to respond to the calls that come in and if we are queuing we can not do that,” he said.
Jonathon Fagge, chief executive officer of the Norwich Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which will be responsible for the commissioning of health services in the Norwich area from April 1, said fines for ambulance handover delays aimed to be a deterrent. However, there was no “quick fix”, although he was optimistic that Project Domino, which was launched at the end of last year to improve emergency and urgent care in central Norfolk would start delivering results.
New figures show that between April and January, 42pc of ambulance journeys took more than the expected 30 minutes from arriving at hospital, handing over patients, and vehicle turnaround. .
A total of 5,412 East of England Ambulance Trust staff hours were lost in those 10 months because of delays at the N&N – the equivalent to 451 shifts.