Which Norfolk hospital has the longest ambulance handovers?

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital has worked on reducing ambulance handover delays. Picture: Chris Bishop

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital has worked on reducing ambulance handover delays. Picture: Chris Bishop - Credit: Archant

A third of people taken to hospital by paramedics this winter have been forced to wait in ambulance queues for longer than half an hour before being admitted, new figures show.

In total, more than 3,000 people taken to Norfolk's three hospitals via ambulance have faced a wait of more than 30 minutes to be transferred into the facilities.

The figures for 'handovers' of patients from paramedics to hospital staff underline the extreme pressures that local NHS services have been operating under in recent weeks.

The data shows that 1,761 people endured even longer waits, of more than an hour, as demand for hospital services and ambulances themselves took their toll.

The figures relate to the period of November 29, 2021 to January 2, 2022, during which time almost 9,300 were carried to the county's three hospitals by ambulance.

East of England ambulances in a row

Ambulances continue to be hit with slow handover times at hospitals - Credit: EEAST

It is the highest proportion of patients forced to wait more than half an hour for in-hospital treatment in the past five winters.

However, a somewhat surprising statistic shows that it was also the fewest number of people taken by ambulance in this period - and the first time that it has seen fewer than 10,000 patients.

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The hospital where patients endured the longest waits to be admitted was the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn, where a quarter of patients were caught in car park ambulance queues.

Over this period, 555 out of 2,198 patients faced waits of more than an hour - 25pc - while 38pc were left to wait longer than 30 minutes.

At the region's largest hospital, the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, almost one in every five ambulance patients had to wait longer than an hour.

Of the 4,517 patients admitted via ambulance, 802 were waiting longer than an hour before finding a hospital bed - 18pc in total.

And at the James Paget University Hospital in Gorleston, 16pc of patients faced waits of 60 minutes or more - 404 patients out of the 2,568 taken there via ambulance.

While each of the past five winters have seen a greater number of patients taken to hospital via ambulance, record attendances have been seen across emergency departments - with longer trolley waits also proving an issue.

And this, combined with further pressures on health services have led to the combined NHS system in Norfolk and Waveney declaring a "critical incident".

The Norfolk and Waveney Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) has confirmed this incident, which was declared earlier this month, continues to be in effect.

It is against this backdrop that the region's ambulance services have continued to struggle to meet response time targets.

Over the course of this period, the East of England Ambulance Service was required to respond to 9,522 category one incidents - the most severe, life-threatening cases. 

Targets state these incidents, which include cardiac arrest or patients that are not breathing, should be attended within seven minutes.

However, in December, the average response time for a category one call was 11 minutes and 33 seconds.

And likewise, category two calls were responded to in 61 minutes - the first time this figure has ever eclipsed an hour. The target for these calls is 18 minutes.

These struggles though are in no way exclusive to the east of the country, however, with every single ambulance trust in England failing to meet the seven-minute target for category one calls.

A spokesperson for the NHS in Norfolk and Waveney said: “To help alleviate pressure across our health and care system, we have undertaken a number of actions in addition to our usual working practices.

"This includes creating additional bed capacity in our hospitals and in the community, continuing to support the safe and timely discharge of people who no longer need to stay in hospital, providing additional support to care homes to avoid unnecessary hospital admissions and redeploying staff where help is needed most.

"Our phenomenal staff continue to work tirelessly to care and support every single patient in what continues to be incredibly challenging circumstances and we are incredibly grateful to them.”

What is a 'critical incident'?

A critical incident is a scenario in which the local NHS system is under so much pressure that services cannot be fully delivered and patients are at increased risk of harm.

In the simplest of terms, this means hospitals are full, ambulances cannot get to patients in anywhere near close to target times and GPs struggle to even see urgent cases.

For care homes and social care, this means they cannot deliver care packages needed for patients leaving hospitals.

Before hospitals can declare the highest level of alert, the NHS tells them to cancel operations and discharge patients who may not have ordinarily been discharged.

This leads to postponements of planned procedures, with hospitals prioritising operations for cancer patients and those in most urgent need and who have waited the longest.

It also means ambulance trusts review all long-distance transfers, which can result in patients being taken further away if it means they have a shorter wait once they arrive.

Norovirus warning

Parents have been warned to look out for signs of Norovirus and ensure hands are washed thoroughly.

Parents have been warned to look out for signs of Norovirus and ensure hands are washed thoroughly. Pic:: Nick Butcher. - Credit: Archant © 2010

Alongside issuing advice for people to think carefully about how they use NHS services, the CCG has also heeded warnings about a growing prevalence of norovirus.

Colloquially known as the winter vomiting bug, norovirus is a highly contagious illness that results in vomiting and diarrhoea.

The CCG spokesman said: "Practising good hand hygiene is particularly important with cases of the winter vomiting virus on the increase.

"There is no specific cure for stomach bugs such as norovirus. You can treat yourself by resting at home and drinking plenty of fluids to stay hydrated."

The main symptoms of the virus are

  • Feeling sick or nauseous 
  • Diarrhoea
  • Physical sickness (vomiting)

Meanwhile, the beleaguered health services continue to press ahead with the Covid-19 vaccine, with members of the public urged to seek out their jabs if they are yet to receive them.