Thousands of the most seriously ill emergency patients are being forced to travel further to hospital in ambulances following a swathe of A&E closures and downgrades.
Figures obtained by The Mail on Sunday show that the number of patients with life-threatening conditions taking longer than 30 minutes to reach A&E has rocketed by an average of 37 per cent in two years.
Most of these people will be transported by ‘blue light’ ambulance – so the extra journey time means they are being transported further than ever to access emergency care.
Figures from ambulance trusts across England show a rise of up to 63 per cent in just two years in the number of priority Category A patients spending 30 minutes or more on the road after being collected by paramedics.
Such patients are so ill that trusts have a legal requirement to get paramedics to 95 per cent of cases within eight minutes. But there is no upper limit on the time it takes to get them to hospital.
The shocking rise in journey times has been attributed to the closure and downgrading of A&E departments, with some operating limited opening hours.
But it also shows the effect of the Government’s policy to introduce major trauma networks, which means some of the most seriously ill patients go to specialist centres rather than the closest local casualty department.
While paramedics are highly trained and can perform life-saving techniques, the disclosure still raises fears that patients are being put at risk by such policies.
Hope Daley, of trade union Unison, which represents ambulance workers, said: ‘Alarm bells should be ringing in the Government and the Department of Health about this shocking rise in the time it takes seriously ill people to get to hospital.
‘Patients need fast, efficient treatment without having to wait in pain. The financial straitjacket on the NHS is leading to A&E units up and down the country closing or reducing their hours to daytime only. The Government must see that its policies are damaging the ability of the NHS to care properly for patients.’
Shadow Health Minister Andrew Gwynne said:
‘David Cameron promised to put doctors in control, but he has allowed A&E closures to be driven through even where they don’t have clinical support. Ministers must take urgent action to ensure patients don’t pay the price for his broken promises on the NHS.’
The full article appeared in the Mail on Sunday on 30th December 2012