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Ambulance Watch: Service loses more than 5,000 staff hours because of handover delays at N&N

PUBLISHED: 15:02 01 March 2013 | UPDATED: 15:02 01 March 2013

Ambulances parked up outside the accident and emergency department of the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. Photo: Steve Adams

Ambulances parked up outside the accident and emergency department of the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. Photo: Steve Adams

A total of more than 5,000 ambulance staff hours were lost last year because of long handover delays at Norfolk’s main hospital, according to new figures.

Officials from the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital and the East of England Ambulance Service will be brought back before Norfolk County Councillors next week to explain why some patients are waiting more than an hour in the back of an ambulance at the doors of the Colney site.

The ambulance trust says that handover delays at the N&N are the worst across the six counties it serves.

And 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 13pc of patient journeys took more than 60 minutes to clear because of handover delays.

A report to the Norfolk Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee says that a grand total of 5,412 East of England Ambulance Trust staff hours were lost in those ten months because of delays at the N&N - the equivalent to 451 shifts.

The ambulance trust, which is failing to hit response targets, says addressing handover problems is one of the key factors in helping to improve services. However, despite measures to speed up handovers, 46pc of cases fail to hit the 15 minute target to handover patients following arrival at the Colney site and 23pc of ambulances are not receiving the clear to leave within 15 minutes after handover.

Officials from the East of England Ambulance Service, N&N and the five new local Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG) have been called to answer councillors’ questions at a meeting on Thursday.

The health overview and scrutiny committee were told in July about a number of steps to improve handovers policy, including establishing a zero tolerance policy to ambulance waits, developing a ‘see and treat’ service for minor patients and fines if less than 80pc of patients a month are not handed over at the hospital within 15 minutes.

Operation Domino was launched last year, which involves all health and social care organisations in central Norfolk to improve emergency and urgent care services.

Chris Cobb, director of medicine and emergency care at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, said in a letter that the emergency care department had already changed the way it works to assess and discharge patients more quickly.

“However, there are still a number of further changes required that are hindered by the wider national shortage of A&E doctors and acute physicians, both qualified at consultant level and in training and by factors outside of the control of the NNUH,” he said.

He added there had been a 3pc increase in emergency demand in 2012/13 and 40 to 80 medically stable patients were occupying acute beds every day, creating a “bottleneck at the front door.”

An ambulance service spokesman said: “Obviously any delays at hospital resulting in patient handover delays mean time off the road for our crews who are not available to respond to other 999 patients in the community. However, we continue to work closely with hospitals, the Strategic Health Authority and our commissioners to proactively tackle this issue.”

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