More than 700 patients wait more than an hour to get into emergency departments as winter pressures begin
- Credit: Archant
More than 700 patients waited more than an hour to be transferred from an ambulance into Norfolk hospitals last month.
The aim is for crews to be able to hand patients over to hospital staff within 15 minutes of arriving, to allow them to get back out on to the road to attend more calls.
But if an emergency department is full or very busy, staff may not be able to accept the patient immediately, meaning crews need to stay with them in the meantime.
It often leads to ambulances queuing outside A&E, which has the knock-on effect of causing longer waiting times for those who call 999.
Between December 3 and December 30 last year, the majority of patients (75pc) were handed over within half an hour.
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However 14pc (560) of patients at the region's busiest hospital, the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH), had to wait an hour to get into A&E.
And a further 20pc (786) waited between 30 and 60 minutes. Some 65pc were handed over within half an hour.
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At the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) in King's Lynn 7pc of patients (129) waited for more than an hour in the two week period, with 17pc (325) waited between 30 and 60 minutes.
However the James Paget University Hospital (JPUH) bucked the trend and just 24 patients, or 1pc of arrivals, waited more than an hour and 4pc (92 patients) waited between 30 and 60 minutes. Some 94pc of JPUH patients were handed over within 30 minutes.
The total number of waits over an hour at all hospitals was 713.
December 10 was a particularly difficult day for the NNUH and QEH, as long handover delays spiked. Last year, it was agreed at a risk summit into the East of England Ambulance Trust (EEAST) that hospitals would implement an immediate handover policy.
An NNUH spokesman said: 'NNUH is committed to the immediate handover of patients, which is made as a joint decision between us and the ambulance service. NNUH gets on average 140 ambulances arriving at the emergency department every day and our staff are doing their best to assess and treat patients as quickly as possible. It has been particularly busy in the period between Christmas and New Year with more than 350 emergency attendances a day – a 6pc increase in demand.'
'We were prepared and launched our rapid assessment and treatment unit in mid-December, which created eight extra cubicle spaces at the emergency department.
'We are working closely with our NHS partners, including a senior ambulance manager working in our winter room to ensure patients arriving by ambulance are seen by emergency department staff as quickly as possible.
'Our new discharge suite has been launched and we have an extra 57 beds at NNUH this winter. In January we will also launch NNUH at home where up to 30 clinically-selected patients will be able to go home to recover for the last few days of their acute episode of care.
'We'd like to thank all our staff for their hard work over the Christmas and New Year period, which is a traditionally very busy time of the year.'
At the QEH a spokesman said an assessment zone and acute medical unit had been created to improve how patients move through the hospital, and a member of EEAST staff was also working in A&E.
They added: 'By providing intensive and high quality care from doctors, nurses and therapists, the aim is to help patients return home rather than be admitted into hospital.'
Joanne Segasby, associate chief operating officer at JPUH, added: 'It has been a busy Christmas and New Year for the hospital and we're continuing to ask residents to only use our A&E in genuine emergencies.
'We have been working closely with our colleagues in the ambulance service to reduce handover delays, putting in place measures to assess patients on arrival in A&E and sending them for treatment by the most appropriate healthcare professional. This could mean patients are seen in our new ambulatory care unit, our emergency assessment and discharge unit (EADU) or by another specialist team to try to ease the pressure in A&E.
'We'd like to thank all our staff who have worked exceptionally hard, particularly over the Christmas and New Year period. It's this teamwork that helps when we are again faced with exceptional demand for our services.'