Patients needing treatment left waiting for longer outside Norfolk’s hospitals

Patients requiring urgent treatment have been left waiting in ambulances for longer outside Norfolk's three hospitals, new figures have revealed. The East of England Ambulance Service crews aim to handover patients to accident and emergency staff within a maximum of 15 minutes.

But this unofficial target was missed on more than 47,000 occasions in the county from November 2008 to October 2011.

And the average handover time was more than three minutes longer than expected at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH), King's Lynn's Queen Elizabeth Hospital and Gorleston's James Paget University Hospital in 2010/11.

West Suffolk Hospital, in Bury St Edmunds, was the only service to improve transfer times in the same 12-month period, reducing it from 20 minutes and 55 seconds to 16 minutes and 42 seconds.

Norman Lamb, North Norfolk MP, today called on health officials to meet with MPs to try and solve the problems which are leaving ambulances stuck outside hospitals.

The Liberal Democrat said patient care was being compromised as ambulances struggled to make their next call because of the delays.

Mr Lamb told the EDP: 'It's a system working inefficiently. It's not that we have a shortage of people, it's we have people stuck doing nothing.

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'It's critical we get this working more smoothly and I think we need to get together the primary care trusts, ambulance trust and hospitals to iron out, once and for all, how to improve this. At the end of the day, it can be a question of life and death if they can't get an ambulance to someone quickly.

'There are some areas where this is working far better so there's nothing inherent in the situation we've got which suggests it's impossible to resolve.'

Alan Murray, East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust's director of service delivery, said the organisation strived to meet its 15-minute handover time on every call out.

He added the figures were reviewed and monitored daily, with all hospitals contacted every day to assess any potential problems that could lead to delays.

But he said: 'Obviously any delays at hospital resulting in handover delays mean time off the road for our crews, but we are liaising with the strategic health authority and our commissioners to proactively work with those hospitals which are presenting the biggest challenge in terms of ambulance turn around delays.'

The average handover time increased at the three Norfolk hospitals from 2009/10 to 2010/11. The NNUH was the worst performer, with its transfer time increasing from 12 minutes and 11 seconds to 18 minutes and five seconds.

Janice Bradfield, Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust spokesman, said: 'Over the last three years we have, like many other acute hospitals, experienced an increase in demand for our emergency services and our patients are often brought in by ambulance.

'Our priority is the safety of all of our patients in A&E and the admitting areas of the hospital and we work closely with colleagues from the ambulance trust to ensure that the sickest patients are prioritised and on some occasions this results in delays to turnaround times.'

The James Paget Hospital missed the 15-minute handover for 6,808 of its calls, or 49 per cent in 2010/11. The average wait was 18 minutes and 44 seconds - the higest in the east of England - up from 16 minutes and five seconds.

Spokesman Andrew Stronach said: 'The challenge that both hospitals and ambulance trusts face nationally on handover times reflects a rising demand on frontline NHS services. Our A&E team continues to work closely with colleagues in the East of England ambulance service to manage the handover process as quickly as possible.'

Handover times at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, in King's Lynn, increased from 17 minutes and 25 seconds in 2009/10 to 18 mins and 34 seconds in 2010/11. A spokesman said they were working with the ambulance service to reduce this.

Gwen Nuttall, chief operating officer at West Suffolk Hospital, said they constantly monitored patient handover times throughout the day.

She said: 'The number of patients being brought to A&E by ambulance has increased steadily over recent years. However, we make sure that every patient is triaged on arrival at hospital so that those with the greatest clinical need will be treated as a priority.'

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