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Huge rise in ambulances queueing outside N&N as pressures on emergency services increase

PUBLISHED: 07:00 17 December 2015 | UPDATED: 11:35 17 December 2015

Ambulances stacking up outside A&E at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Ambulances stacking up outside A&E at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Archant

A Norfolk MP today warns the NHS is on the brink after new figures show a huge rise in ambulances queueing outside the county’s biggest A&E department.

Hospital and ambulance trusts working together to solve problems

A spokesman for the N&N said: “In order to deal with the increased pressure we have been engaging with our system partners (the CCGs and across health and social care) to explore a range of alternatives for the ambulance services, specifically to avoid bringing patients to the hospital if their care needs can be better met elsewhere.

“We also have facilities on site for ambulance crews to have a rest and meals which also leads to empty ambulances being parked outside A&E at the hospital.

“While we would never discourage patients from seeking our help, approximately 50pc of the patients arriving by ambulance are discharged home later the same day. 
“We are confident that, with good partnership working between ourselves and the ambulance trust, we can help many of these patients access more appropriate urgent care.”

In November crews from East of England Ambulance (EEAST) spent 665 hours waiting for their patients to be admitted to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital’s A&E – the longest of all 18 hospitals in the east of England.

It comes just a week after all three of the region’s major hospitals were placed on “black alert”, which is declared when hospitals are struggling to cope with demand.

On Tuesday evening there were 15 ambulances queueing outside the N&N’s A&E when pressures peaked.

Latest figures released by EEAST show ambulances waited 665 hours outside A&E in November, compared with 362 hours in October.

It is the second-highest number for all east of England hospitals – second only to Colchester Hospital, which is in special measures.

A spokesman for the N&N said its A&E department was “easily the busiest in the east of England” and added ambulance arrivals at the hospital had increased by 20pc since 2013.

Delays occur when ambulances are unable to hand over their patients to the hospital because A&E is too busy or there are no beds available. Some beds are not available because they are occupied by patients medically fit to be discharged, but remain in place because suitable care for them outside the hospital has not been finalised.

Norwich South MP Clive Lewis has demanded the situation acts as a warning to the government and NHS bosses. “This mild weather gives an early warning sign to the government that the NHS is on the brink,” the Labour member said. “What is going to happen when the really cold weather comes in January?

“Think of the pressure that is going to build up on the NHS then.

“Increasingly accident and emergency departments are becoming depositaries for all the other failed areas of the social and health care system,” Mr Lewis added.

Hospitals are often put on “black alert” during winter.

Dr Anoop Dhesi, chairman of North Norfolk Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) which is responsible for emergency and acute care, said there were “robust plans” in place during winter.

“In central Norfolk, commissioners are working closely with the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, the East of England Ambulance Service Trust, and all other local health and social care providers to ensure there are robust plans in place to protect services during the busy winter months, and assure the safety and welfare of patients,” he said.

A paramedic who left the East of England Ambulance Trust four months ago because of the growing pressures said the situation was now “out of control”. “There are not enough beds in the hospital. What is needed is direction from government level.”

Matt Broad, EEAST locality director for Norfolk, Suffolk, and Cambridgeshire, said: “We have been working very closely with the N&N to reduce handover delays including having a hospital ambulance 
liaison officer (HALO) there to improve the handover process between ambulance crews and hospital staff.”

On Easter Monday in 2013, delays to handing patients over led to paramedics pitching an inflatable tent outside the accident and emergency department for the first time. The £70,000 shelter, which could have housed six stretchers, was on the brink of being used as a makeshift ward.

Have you waited a long time for treatment after going to hospital by ambulance? Email nicholas.carding@archant.co.uk

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